Media Advocates Slam Parliament Press Restrictions

By San Yamin Aung 5 June 2015

RANGOON — A press advocacy group on Friday spoke out against a recent ban on media observation of Parliament, urging the government to immediately restore access.

The Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN), a Rangoon-based organization, denounced the government’s claims that reporters had breached journalistic ethics by publishing photographs of misbehaving lawmakers.

“MJN assumes that the publication of [photographs that show] a military lawmaker casting a vote on behalf of his absent neighbor is just exposing what the public should know,” read a statement published by the group, in reference to an embarrassing image that motivated the ban.

The group argued that what lawmakers say, how they act and how they vote are in the public interest, and that reporters should have access to the parliamentary chambers.

Journalists were indefinitely banned from an observation booth above the Union Parliament chamber last week with no explanation, and within days the restrictions had been broadened to include sessions of both the Upper and Lower houses.

On Wednesday, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann told reporters that the decision came at the request of the Lower House military contingent, and was in fact a response to the April 10 publication of a photograph picturing proxy votes being cast by the military.

“We sent a letter to Shwe Mann last week, and since that time the ban has been extended to all Parliament sessions. We made this statement to show our objection and to urge that they find a solution,” MJN secretary Myint Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Myint Kyaw warned that the ban could be seen as a sign of the government “backsliding” on press freedoms, at a time when a dozen journalists are behind bars and reporters still face severe limitations.

Citing the example of a recent incident near Thameehla Island, where journalists were temporarily detained and prevented from accessing a boat carrying more than 700 migrants that had been intercepted by the navy, MJN said that mounting restrictions are “not a good sign for the country’s press freedom.”