Surveillance of journalists steps up

Intelligence officials in Burma are reportedly building a catalogue of information on domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents, despite pledges that the country’s notoriously strict media environment is opening up.

Personnel from the Bureau of Special Investigations, a body under the home affairs ministry, went to the houses of local reporters as well as ward administrations on Wednesday, a magazine editor told DVB.

The exact purpose of the visits is not clear, but it is believed that officials were checking on the addresses of journalists and ascertaining their exact role.

In recent months the government has made several amendments to laws that have traditionally placed Burma at the tail-end of press freedom indexes, such as the recent lifting of a ban on accessing websites such as DVB and The Irrawaddy. These have caused a number of countries to speculate that the environment is beginning to open up.

Others, however, are less certain. “It’s not like we are allowed to go into a place just by showing our ID cards – it’s not as easy as getting into a cinema,” said Ko Ko, executive director of Yangon Time Media Group. “We have to be officially recognised and get approval beforehand, same with the foreign correspondents.

“We can’t send just anybody into the parliament to chase news but we have to submit the reporter’s personal details first and get approval. We would like to have some freedom when we gather news.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report last month that Burma’s media landscape remains heavily monitored and the environment for independent journalists is as risky as ever, despite pledges of reform.

In September, the 21-year-old DVB reporter Sithu Zeya, who is already serving an eight-year jail term, had his sentenced extended by a decade under the Electronics Act.

Ko Ko said however that restrictions on freedom of expression had relaxed somewhat, compared with the days when Burmese faced prison for perceived dissent.

“In the past, we couldn’t criticise the government over political aspects without getting into trouble, but now we are officially allowed to do so. Also, now we even have a ‘peaceful protest’ bill, and tailing reporters at a time like this will bring no positive outcome.”

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