Burma govt forms public relations team

An 11-member team of government officials led by Information Minister Kyaw Hsan and formed this week will look to shore up international perceptions of the Thein Sein administration, as criticism continues to circulate over lack of reform in Naypyidaw.

The new unit, called the Spokespersons and Information Team, is made up of cabinet members. The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said yesterday that the main purpose of the body would be to “[release] news and information and ]hold] press conferences occasionally regarding the political, economic, security, military and natural disaster affairs of the State”.

Opinion of the group is divided among media workers and analysts. Some claim that it will bring more transparency to a notoriously opaque government, while others think that it’s little more than a facelift for the new administration.

The head of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, Ko Ko, said that there was hope the team would make life easier for reporters who are often stonewalled by government officials during the rare press conferences it hold.

“We also wish that the team will act as a bridge between the new government and the media. If these wishes are fulfilled, then the team will gain more confidence [from the media].”

A press conference is being held today in what may be the first test of the government’s latest pledge. Officials warned recently that it would take greater caution with such events after accusing journalists of passing slanderous information to exiled media outlets such as DVB.

Zin Linn, deputy chairman of Thailand-based Burma Media Association, said that any assessment of the Spokespersons and Information Team should wait until today’s conference is over and better conclusions can be drawn. He also warned that officials and civilians outside of the group who speak to media may face penalties.

“Given that [the government] is forming this information team, it implies that what other people say [to the media] is not official, and may cause trouble for those not part of the team,” he said.

“In my opinion it looks good on the surface but when you analyse it carefully, it’s more like a restriction.”

An index ranking countries according to global perceptions of their reputation and released recently by East West Communications company found that media painted a highly pessimistic image of Burma; moreover, its ranking on the Nation Brand Perception Index had dropped in the second quarter of 2011, months after the new government came to power.

Thein Sein’s administration has struggled to shed its reputation as a civilian extension of the military junta that ruled Burma in various guises since 1962. Although it released opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi shortly after the November 2010 elections and appears to be opening up somewhat towards the political opposition, critics claim that the escalation of civil wars in the border regions and continued human rights abuses show that little reform has taken place.

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