Unflattering Photos of MPs Get Reporters Banned from Parliament

By Yen Saning 27 May 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union legislature on Tuesday banned reporters from observing sessions after a series of embarrassing images went viral on social media, indefinitely locking the doors to a media observation room above the Parliament floor.

Local and foreign media were previously granted access to a booth from which they could observe and broadcast proceedings, but journalists said on Tuesday they were turned away with no notice of when they would be allowed back in.

“After the Lower House session was over [on Tuesday], they locked the door to the room where we sit before the Union session began,” Aung Thu Ra, a reporter for the BBC, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “We had to sit on chairs outside, where we couldn’t see what was happening in the Parliament.”

Aung Thu Ra said that reporters were offered no explanation for the sudden ban, adding that “it seems like they are telling us to just do what they say, and not say anything about it.”

Zayar Phyo, a reporter for Mizzima News, said journalists could now only watch a live feed broadcast by government-employed videographers inside the Parliament.

“The disadvantage is that we can’t see the representatives while they are voting or watch their activities directly, we can only see what’s aired on TV,” he said, explaining that the state-sanctioned broadcast doesn’t provide a complete picture all activities that reporters need access to.

What prompted the ban is still unclear, though many journalists have attributed it to a photograph widely shared on social media showing two lawmakers asleep during a session. It was the second such snafu in under two months; lawmakers were outraged in mid-April when a local journal published photographs that appeared to show a military member voting on behalf of an absentee.

Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN), told The Irrawaddy that he was still inquiring about the details and that the group would lobby against the media ban directly to the Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann.

“What the Union Parliament director general, Kyaw Soe, said in today’s Voice newspaper was confrontational, it seems like he is unsatisfied with the media for showing pictures of [lawmakers] sleeping, and making jokes on social media,” Myint Kyaw said. “But he’s just blaming the media for reporting on things, like the lawmaker who [appeared to] vote from someone else’s desk, whereas the issue being reported on is what should be addressed.”

Additional reporting by Lawi Weng.