Journalists Bemoan Scant Information on Military Affairs

By Nobel Zaw 24 March 2015

RANGOON — While Burma’s military has disseminated selective morsels of information to the media over the past few months, local journalists said most of the information was either bland or biased and could not be used.

“They give news that promotes themselves rather than information [about] their activities, so we cannot use it,” said Kyaw Soe Lin, editor-in-chief of the Myanmar Post Journal. He said there were currently around five dispatches per week that reached local media outlets.

Aung Thu Ra, a senior reporter at 7 Day News Journal, said, “Most of the information—about 75 percent—we cannot use and there is no one to contact.”

Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing assigned three generals to serve as press liaisons following a meeting with the Interim Press Council in mid-October. However, contact information for the three men was never provided.

At a second meeting in November, the press council was informed that the Defense Ministry’s Department of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare would instead be tasked with handling media relations. The military also pledged to set up an official email service to handle media enquiries, although, that too has not been made public.

While there remains no assigned Burma Army spokesperson, the Interim Press Council has been acting as a conduit through which officials from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (army) can send email updates that the press council then forwards to select media outlets, according to press council member Myint Kyaw.

“They still don’t know how to understand and handle the media,” Myint Kyaw said.

Aung Thu Ra said the military should issue press releases with full and detailed factual information including providing a media contact person.

Local journalists, including Aung Thu Ra, said more frequent media updates have been issued since February, a month when fierce fighting first broke out between the Burma Army and Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in and around Laukkai in the Kokang Special Region.

However, much of the information the military currently provides concerns the daily and often mundane activities of army chief Min Aung Hlaing, Aung Thu Ra said.

Min Aung Hlaing has lately granted a handful of interviews to local and foreign news organizations, with some observers questioning whether the army chief is laying the groundwork for a possible run at the presidency following national elections later in the year.

Kyaw Soe Lin said the army chief should instead focus on providing information and updates on issues such as the killing of the journalist Par Gyi in October and the ongoing conflict in Kachin State.