Press Council to Meet Burma’s Commander-in-Chief

By Yen Saning 13 October 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s Interim Press Council will meet with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday, when the former is expected to press the commander-in-chief on improving journalists’ access to military officials, as well as highlight what many members of the media say is a shrinking space for freedom of expression in Burma.

Min Aung Hlaing agreed to the meeting some three months after the Press Council requested to meet with him, as well seeking an audience with President Thein Sein, the country’s top magistrate and the parliamentary chairman.

Zaw Thet Htwe, a member of the Press Council, said the media delegation would urge the commander-in-chief to facilitate a more cooperative relationship between the military and journalists.

“Everyone who is reporting has been facing this [limited access to military representatives],” Zaw Thet Htwe said. “If there is a battle, [we] get statements from ethnic armed forces but do not get statements from the army. Even if there is a quote, we can only write that it’s from an anonymous officer. We would like to reform this situation.

“We want to confirm from an official army website or a contact person and then write the stories. Then, it will be safer for us [journalists]. We would also see a more transparent army.”

The six-member Press Council delegation will also discuss the jail terms of five journalists from the Unity weekly journal, who were originally sentenced to 10 years in prison for alleging that the government was running a chemical weapons factory in Magwe Division. The government has maintained that the facility is a conventional ordnance factory. The journalists, charged under Burma’s State Secrets Act, saw their sentences reduced to seven years on Oct. 2.

“We will also discuss how both sides can negotiate and what principles to set so that journalists don’t face danger when covering similar dangerous contexts involving the army,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.

In addition to the Unity case, other journalists have been imprisoned in recent months, and two publications are currently being sued for defamation by Burma’s Ministry of Information.

The Press Council held a closed-door meeting with members of the media and delegations from the executive, judiciary and legislative branches in Naypyidaw on Oct. 4 and 5, with journalists securing an agreement for all government ministries to hold a monthly press conference individually or jointly. The media representatives also requested that ministries more regularly release press statements and allow members of the media to cover court trials.

Press Council members have met with President Thein Sein twice, once in July and again on Aug. 1. Also in August, a statement from the press body said that it had reached an agreement to meet with Information Minister Ye Htut once a month.