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Burmese journalists covering Parliament are focus of inquires

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Burmese authorities are seeking more information about some journalists who are covering Parliament, according to sources close to the journalists.

Reporters in the Burmese media still voice serious concerns about the lack of press freedom in Burma, in spite of minor loosening of restrictions. Photo: MizzimaPolice seeking information about the journalists have questioned their employers and their families to obtain additional information on their background and credentials. At least three Burmese journalists have been the focus of inquires.

Recently, the authorities allowed Burmese journalists and some foreign journalists to cover the parliamentary sessions in Naypyitaw, including the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Service.

Referring to one of the journalists under scrutiny, a source told Mizzima: “The authorities went to his home in Rangoon and they talked with his family. He said he didn’t ask his family what they talked about because he didn’t want them to worry, and he pretended it wasn’t important.”
Inquires have been conducted since early October. The reason for the inquiries was not clear. Journalists who are the subjects of the inquires are afraid to talk about it, said the source.

Journalists have to obtain a permit from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) to gather news in Parliament and are required to provide biographical information and who they work for. At least 35 journalists have submitted their profiles to the PSRD under the Information Ministry, according to a source close to the PSRD.
A journalist familiar with the inquires told Mizzima: “I have frequently gone to visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and an officer asked just one question of my family, who lives in a rural area. My family told them I was a reporter, and then the officer said, “Is he?” and left the house. When my family asked him where he was from, he said that he was from the Information Police force.”

The journalists’ profiles submitted to the PSRD are filed in a “secret category,” the source said. The profiles contain the schools the journalist attended, information about the journalist’s parents, the parents’ jobs or businesses, the names of close relatives of the journalist’s wife or husband and other information.
A female journalist said, “I don’t know exactly why they’re asking these questions. I’m not living in a rural area so the inquires are worse for me.”
Early this year, Burma inaugurated a new government, but international media groups say its reform rhetoric continues to be contradicted by heavy censorship, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released in September.

The New York-based CPJ said banned topics are still wide spread and that, to date, the new government has not acted to abolish or amend its “highly arbitrary laws” that restrict press freedom and punish deviation from official dictates.

The report noted that since elections in November 2010, two journalists have been sentenced to prison terms of almost 20 years, and more than a dozen publications have been suspended for their news reporting.

“The government’s promise of reform is welcome, yet censorship in Burma remains arbitrary, intensive, and highly restrictive,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative and the author of the report.

Crispin said that in discussions with Burmese media organizations it was clear that freedom of the press has yet to come to Burma, despite the rhetoric of President Thein Sein’s government.

The CPJ said that the veneer of press freedom evident in the proliferation of privately owned and operated news publications is shattered by the fact that the newspapers are heavily censored and regularly forced to publish state-prepared news and commentary presenting government policies in a glowing light.

“Uncensored reporting from within Burma is crucial for assessing whether the government’s promise of democratic reform is rhetoric or reality,” Crispin said. “Until new freedoms take hold, exile media continues to serve as a vital source of credible, independent information on developments within Burma and should not be abandoned by donor countries.”

Naypyitaw’s recent informal call for exiled dissidents to return to Burma was met with great skepticism by journalists interviewed by CPJ, precisely due to the lack of reforms.

Nearly all of the Burma-based reporters and editors interviewed for the CPJ report are said to have requested anonymity due to fears of possible reprisal if their names appeared in a report critical of the government.

In early September, Burmese  Information and Culture Minister Kyaw Hsan told the Lower House of Parliament censorship of Burmese media is still needed and freedom should not be granted to newspapers and journals at this time.

An article in Mizzima in July, reported that Burmese censorship rules are now divided into two categories of newspapers and magazines: Group 1 includes 178 publications focusing on sports, health, arts, children’s literature, and technology, which don’t need to pass articles through censors prior to publication, but must submit copies to censors after publication. Group 2 includes news and public affairs journals, which must pass all articles through censors prior to publication.
Last Updated ( Friday, 07 October 2011 13:38 )  

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