Press Council Seeks Clarity on Military Briefings

By Nobel Zaw 24 November 2014

RANGOON — Members of Burma’s Interim Press Council met with senior military officials for the second time on Sunday, stating their concerns about the media’s lack of access to information from military sources.

Press Council Vice President Pho Tauk Kyar and Secretary Kyaw Min Swe were among those who met with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other military officials in Naypyidaw.

Myint Kyaw, a council member who was part of Sunday’s delegation, told The Irrawaddy that the military has pledged to set up an official email service for journalists seeking official comment from the armed forces and to update news on the military’s public web portal in a more timely fashion.

“The military will organize a team to respond to the questions of journalists and they promised it would happen soon,” he said.

At the end of the council’s first meeting with the military on Oct. 14, three generals were appointed to act as media liaisons, however journalists were unable to reach them in the following weeks.

Myint Kyaw said on Monday that the generals were finding it difficult to answer enquiries from the media on top of their existing duties and a new team would be constituted from the Defense Ministry’s Department of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare.

The council delegation was told that the military plans to hold a workshop between journalists and officials in the coming weeks, to be led by Gen. Aung Ye Win, director of the department.

Council member Thiha Saw told The Irrawaddy the military representatives pledged to continue the reform process and stated that their highest priority was the conclusion of ceasefire agreements to ensure the successful staging of next year’s general election.

At the same time, the military representatives were inscrutable in their opinions on the process and desirability of amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, according to Thiha Saw.

“[The military said] if there were some problems with the Constitution, it should be repaired, but they didn’t say it would change before 2015,” he said.

The Interim Press Council representatives once again discussed the jailing of five journalists from the Unity journal, who alleged that the government was operating a chemical weapons factory in Magwe Division. The government has maintained that the facility mentioned in the report is a conventional ordnance factory.

“We asked the military to show sympathy for the journalists punished in the Unity case, but they said that the journal’s report was related to politics, and they didn’t say what they would do about the case,” Thiha Saw said.

The meeting also briefly canvassed issues arising from the recent deaths of Kachin Independence Army trainees in Liza and the death of freelance journalist Ko Par Gyi in military custody.

“The military wants to build a good relationship with the media and journalists want to write balanced news,” said Thiha Saw. “After this second meeting, we can say the media has a closer relationship with the military.”

After being established by the government in 2012, the Interim Press Council has sought to step up engagement with senior government officials this year. Members of the council have met with President Thein Sein twice and in August reached an agreement to meet with Information Minister Ye Htut once a month.