Media laws obscuring parliament

Domestic and foreign news outlets are yet to receive any response on whether they can attend the first session of parliament next week where strict rules block possession of all electronic equipment in the building.

The 1000-plus MPs due for Monday’s sitting have been warned that no cameras, bags or mobile phones can pass through security at the Union Parliament building in the capital, Naypyidaw.

Burmese and international journalists say they have so far not been given any word on whether they can attend the session, despite Burma’s information minister, Kyaw Hsan, saying on 17 January that they would be able to cover the event.

A number had applied for passes to cover the session. One foreign correspondent told DVB on condition of anonymity that when he had contacted the ministry, they drew a blank. “They said they didn’t know yet [whether permission would be granted]. Some journalists have booked rooms at hotels in Naypyidaw and they’ll have to cancel their stay if they don’t get permission.”

He added that their last resort would be to simply wait in front of the parliament building and speak to MPs as they exited.

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.

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 senior member of the Committee for Professional Conduct (CPC), set up recently by the government’s censor board with the professed aim of protecting the interests of journalists and issuing guidelines for media practice, said the group has lobbied the government to allow reporters inside the building but was also yet to receive a response.

Parliamentary law states that only MPs and representatives are allowed to join sessions unless given special approval by the parliamentary chairman. Those who cheat this law, perhaps by entering under the guise of somebody else, will be fined 100,000 kyat ($US100) or face one year in prison.

Article 53(f) prohibits the passing of photographs and information to foreign news outlets unless given express permission. Anyone deemed guilty of this faces a two-year sentence.

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