Myanmar Journalists Slam New Restrictions on Covering Parliament

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Journalists gather in the parliament building in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb. 8, 2016.
Journalists gather in the parliament building in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb. 8, 2016.

Recently enacted restrictions on press coverage of Myanmar’s parliament are hindering the work of reporters and must be removed by the time a new government takes over in two or three months’ time, journalists in the country say.

Myanmar’s Hluttaw, or lower house of parliament, held its first session on Feb. 1 following a landslide victory in national polls in November by the National League for Democracy (NLD), which now holds a majority of seats in parliament and will select the country's next president.

In a list of guidelines released on Feb. 5 and described by many news organizations as “restrictive,” the Union Parliament Office has now set out new rules for reporters covering sessions of parliament, limiting the numbers of journalists who can attend, putting certain areas of parliament out of bounds, and calling on reporters to wear proper dress.

“All these restrictions have been put in place according to the instructions of [NLD leader] Aung San Suu Kyi,” Nay Win, director of the Parliament Office said in a Feb. 9 report by the Myanmar newspaper Mizzima.

Chaotic scenes at the lower house’s first session on Feb. 1, when more than 600 reporters crowded the parliament building in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, may have prompted the move to now limit media coverage to five reporters per news organization and to restrict their movements around the building, sources said.

In Myanmar’s new climate of strengthened political reforms, reporters want to get news quickly to their readers and listeners, though, Myanmar Journalists Network secretary Myint Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

"We want to get as much information as possible to our audiences in the shortest possible time," he said. “That is why reporters are competing with each other."

“We don’t want any more restrictions on our news gathering,” he said.

'Unintentional mistakes'

Also speaking to RFA, Thiha Saw, secretary of the Myanmar News Media Council, said that the present confusion over press freedoms in parliament is coming at a time when political power is being handed from one government to another, and may be unintentional.

“Right now, we have a new Hluttaw and an old government, and the new government is coming in only at the end of March,” he said.

"Some mistakes are unintentional," he said.

"People want to know who will be president and who the new government ministers will be, and we want to quench their thirst."

At the same time, the NLD may now feel that it must control reporters' access to party lawmakers, Thiha Saw said.

"They are holding their tongues, worried that they might say something wrong and cause repercussions. But this won't go on for long. It will end in two or three months."

“The NLD itself has said that they want a strong and independent media [in Myanmar],” he said. “It’s not strange that we have problems during a transition.”

“The NLD has told us that this is just a temporary measure that will last until government power is handed over,” added Zaw Thet Htwe of the Myanmar Journalists Union.

“So we’ll wait until March 31,” he said.

“If they still block the flow of information after that deadline, we will have many things to point out and discuss with them.”

Reported by Thin Thiri and Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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