Presidential ‘Press Corps’ to Improve Media Access

By San Yamin Aung 16 December 2014

RANGOON — Minister of Information Ye Htut has said that a group of journalists from independent media will soon be able join a so-called press corps that will be granted access to the Presidential Palace and public events involving the president and other cabinet members.

Ye Htut discussed the plan during a meeting in Rangoon on Tuesday with around 20 representatives from the interim Myanmar Press Council, the Myanmar Journalists Network, the Myanmar Journalists Union and the Myanmar Journalists Association.

Representatives of the organizations said the minister had told them that one journalist and one camera man from every print, online or broadcast media organization would be allowed to register with the press corps.

Those selected to join would reportedly be given working spaces with internet connections in the Presidential Palace and would be allowed to cover official public events involving President Thein Sein and other cabinet members—a privilege that until now was reserved for only state-owned media.

Ye Htut “negotiated with us to define the qualifications and restrictions for the President’s Office press corps,” said Pho Thauk Kya, vice-chairman of the Press Council, who welcomed the initiative as a way of gaining greater media access to Burma’s government.

“I like it. Now, since the President’s Office allows us entry, the ministries will have to allow us too. There is good potential [for greater media access],” he said.

Journalists who want to join the press corps will need to have at least three years’ work experience, or have a statement from their media employer stating they will take responsibility for the reporter’s writing, Pho Thauk Kya said, adding that changes to membership of the corps can only take place every six months.

Myint Kyaw, of the Myanmar Journalists Network, said the minister had proposed to implement the plan before the end of January.

“Journalists would be able to cover the President’s Office events and state-level ceremonies,” he said, adding that until now “only state media are allowed to report and meet with the ministries there, and currently it is difficult to get an interview.”

In remains to be seen, however, 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.

Many officials holding political office or senior government positions are former army members and shun journalists. President Thein Sein rarely gives a press conference, although he has held a few meetings with media representatives.

Minister of Information Ye Htut mostly communicates by posting announcements on his Facebook page and frequently ignores requests for media comments.