New Parliamentary Reporting Guidelines Criticized as Restrictive

By Yen Saning 9 February 2016

RANGOON — In an 18-point statement released on Feb. 5, the Union Parliament Office set out guidelines for the media which reporters say limit their ability to cover parliamentary affairs.

The statement, with a subject line reading “Cooperation related to the media,” pointed out that some supposed inconveniences occurred on Jan. 29 during a welcome lunch for first and second session parliamentarians, as well as on Feb. 1, the first day of the Lower House of Parliament.

The office called on the Ministry of Information, the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), the Myanmar Journalists’ Association and the local Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday to cooperate in submitting a list of no more than five journalists from each registered media outlet to cover parliamentary affairs.

The press council has helped to compile the list, sending in the names of 454 local reporters and 53 foreign reporters to the Union Parliament’s Office, according to MPC secretary Thiha Saw.

However, the secretary said the press council did not take part in helping to formulate the new guidelines.

“[Some] rules, like where journalists should stay, are up to them [the parliamentary office]. But we journalists, if possible, want news freely and want to be able to question freely,” Thiha Saw said.

He added that the parliamentary office should have consulted with media groups before issuing the guidelines and prior to the opening of the new Parliament last week.

“We think it is bad management,” Thiha Saw said.

In the statement, the Union Parliament Office also told journalists “to dress in clothes suitable for the dignity of Parliament,” warning that those who did not would be turned away.

Other constraints included no filming or photography in restricted buildings and certain areas without express permission and limited access to the parliamentary grounds on non-sitting days.

Designated spaces have also been set for interviews with officials. According to an Irrawaddy reporter, this initiative was restrictive as lawmakers or other officials had to be asked to walk to the designated area before being interviewed.

In May last year, journalists were banned from an observation booth above the Union Parliament chamber without explanation, a restriction that was broadened to include sessions of both the Upper and Lower houses.

It was speculated that the decision was prompted by unflattering photos and videos captured in the booth, including an image of lawmakers asleep during a session and a photograph that appeared to show a military lawmaker voting on behalf of his absent neighbor.

Many reporters covering the opening of Parliament last week were forced to gather in a crowded corridor to watch the session on a TV screen. More than 600 journalists were reportedly present at the parliamentary complex on Monday for the opening of the Lower House, outnumbering the chamber’s lawmakers.

May Kha, a local reporter for Voice of America, said of the restrictions: “it’s more annoying and difficult to cover news at the moment when we [the media] are being suppressed.”

The Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) released a statement on Monday rejecting the new reporting guidelines.

“MJN cannot accept the rules released by the Union Parliament Office which treat the media as a lower class,” the statement read.

The body urged the parliamentary office to ensure media freedom and negotiate on any reporting rules, stressing that it was the right of all reporters to freely cover affairs of the Parliament.