Journalists barred from parliament

Journalists will not be allowed to enter parliament today to cover the first session in more than two decades, despite reported pledges to the contrary.

It also remains unclear whether media will be allowed to report on any future sittings, the chairman of the Committee for Professional Conduct (CPC), Ko Ko, told DVB.

“The CPC previously checked with the MoI [Ministry of Information] and was told that there was no plan to invite journalists to Naypyidaw for the parliament opening,” he said. This comes despite an announcement by Burma’s information minister, Kyaw Hsan, on 17 January that reporters would be permitted.

Some 18 foreign news correspondents arrived in Naypyidaw yesterday to cover the event, but a photojournalist said today it would be impossible even to take a photo of the parliament building because the road leading to it was barricaded with barbed wire.

An elected MP today said on condition of anonymity that two reporters from a domestic Burmese news journal were visited by government authorities at their guest house in the capital and had their names taken.

Burma has some of the world’s strictest media laws, and bans filming of so-called sensitive material that would include parliamentary debates unless expressly permitted to do so. Under the Electronics Act, journalists caught filming without permission face a 10-year prison sentence.

The CPC, which is ostensibly tasked with protecting the interests of journalists and issuing guidelines for media practice, was set up recently by the government’s censor board, which also enforces Burma’s draconian press laws.

Analysts have sought to dampen expectations about the first parliamentary session since elections in November last year. Both chambers are dominated by the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won 80 percent of the vote, while a quarter of seats have already been reserved for pre-appointed military officials who effectively carry power of veto.

A parliament did meet in 1988 prior to the ousting of Burma’s first dictator, Ne Win, but one has to go back to March 1962 for the last time it met under civilian rule.

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