Govt Accepts 45 Journalists for ‘President’s Press Corps’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 31 March 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information has accepted 45 journalists into a so-called press corps that will be granted access to the Presidential Palace and public events involving the president and other cabinet members.

Kyaw Swar Min, secretary 2 of the Myanmar Journalist Association and correspondent for Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, said he attended a meeting with the ministry on Tuesday where he was informed by officials that they had selected 45 journalists for the corps.

“They said we can’t change the press card with others [journalists] and it will only be granted for President U Thein Sein’s turn in office,” he said.

Information Ministry director general Ye Tint said eight applicants for joining the corps are still being reviewed and are being asked to redo their application, while one local journalist was rejected as he was involved in a court case.

“After they redo their application form, they [the President’s Office] will approve them soon,” he said of the eight pending applications.

The corps members will be allowed to attend daily press briefings at the President’s Office and Presidential Palace between 10 am and noon, during which presidential spokesmen and cabinet members will address the media.

Kyaw Swar Min said the corps members had been informed by Special Branch about the security arrangements, adding that the daily press briefings would start per April 1.

In remains to be seen how much media access will improve with the creation of the press corps.

Gaining media access to the government and the secretive and powerful Burma Army has been difficult in recent years, despite the introduction of wide-ranging reforms by the Thein Sein administration.

The reforms have greatly increased press freedom compared to the junta-era, yet members of the media still run the risk of running afoul of authorities.

At least 20 journalists have been arrested in Burma since 2013, among them one who was killed in the custody of the Burma Army. Twelve media workers are currently serving prison sentences, some for up to seven years with hard labor for violating a colonial-era secrecy law that critics call antiquated, vague and susceptible to abuse by authorities.