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The government of Irrawaddy Division has been accused of blocking freedom of information after reporters for private media outlets said they were denied access to one of its recent meetings.
When the reporters arrived at the meeting venue on Wednesday, they were told that they didn’t have permission to enter. The reporters then accused officials of bias after noting that correspondents from state-run news agencies had been allowed in.
“They didn’t restrict everyone in the same manner. They only allowed reporters from agencies like the Ministry of Information and [state-run television station] MRTV to enter,” said Mizzima News’ reporter Sithu Maung Maung.
“This is media oppression and we would like to know if the regional chief minister was aware of this,” he added.
The confrontation between the two sides became heated when an official from the general administration department, which operates under the military-controlled Ministry of Homes Affairs, snatched a mobile phone being used as a recording device from the hand of one of the reporters.
The officials later said they denied the reporters entry because they hadn’t received instructions from the chief minister to allow them in. “If they had approval from the government’s office, we would have let them in,” said one official.
Mahn Johnny, the Irrawaddy Division chief minister, blamed the incident on a misunderstanding and said his government would do its best to ensure that similar problems don’t occur in the future.
“We will try not to have a repeat of this. It happened due to unclear procedures and what’s done is done. But in the future, we will get the officials to explain their actions and stop them from doing it again,” said Mahn Johnny, who was elected last year as a candidate for the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Sources in the Irrawaddy Division government say that senior officials from various government departments have been accused of not cooperating with the new NLD-led administration’s democratisation efforts.