Burma’s Military Appoints Point Men for Media Relations

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 October 2014

RANGOON — Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has assigned three generals the task of communicating with the media, following a meeting between the commander-in-chief and members of the press.

Seven members of the military led by Min Aung Hlaing met a seven-person delegation from Burma’s Interim Press Council in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, during which the commander-in-chief announced the assignment.

Thiha Saw, spokesman for the Interim Press Council, said: “Maj-Gen Aung Thaw, Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo, and Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win from the Defense Ministry will be assigned the role of contact persons for the media.

“The result of the meeting was very positive. They [the military] said that they now have a less negative view of the media,” he added.

The commander-in-chief reportedly promised to hold regular press conferences to better communicate with the media.

The meeting comes at a tense time for relations between the government and media, typified by a crackdown on the Unity weekly journal that has been condemned by press freedom advocates. Five journalists from Unity were sentenced in July to 10 years in prison—later reduced to seven years—for reporting on an alleged chemical weapons factory, a claim that the government has said is false. The senior general made no mention of the Unity journalists during the meeting, according to the Interim Press Council.

“[Min Aung Hlaing] said nothing specifically about the Unity journal issue, but he implied that measures would be taken to make sure similar cases do not happen again,” said Thiha Saw.

“Bothe sides talked about their own weak points. They [the military] have their own difficulties. We talked about building trust and establishing communication channels,” he added.

The senior general is tipped as a potential presidential candidate, after a general election next year that will bring to Parliament the lawmakers responsible for choosing the president.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Press Council members told The Irrawaddy that they would seek to win a pledge from the military to make accessing military personnel easier for journalists.

Min Aung Hlaing’s media debut was a rocky one. In March, the senior general held his first press conference, at which journalists from several publications were barred entry despite having registered in advance of the event. State media was also reportedly accorded a privileged position, with its journalists being the only media allowed to ask Min Aung Hlaing questions.