Media restricted in pre-election coverage

Sept 23, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese government has reportedly clamped down on media coverage in the run-up to next year's elections, according to industry workers who were barred from running news about an election forum.

Around 60 people attended a discussion forum in Rangoon held by the newly-formed Democratic Party, said to be close to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

According to party leader Thu Wei, journalists from several weekly journals later said that they were not allowed to publish material on the forum.

"[Authorities] told them that reporting of such news has not yet been permitted but the permission would come soon," he said.

"Until now, there haven't been any election laws passed yet, and we still don't know when it will be held or whether it's still going to happen [in 2010] or not."

He said that the meeting for the formation of the group took place under the guise of a wedding anniversary of Thu Wei and his wife, while party discussions are often billed as merit-making events.

Media restrictions in Burma are amongst the most draconian in the world, with journalists deemed guilty of dissent often handed lengthy prison sentences. All published material must first be passed through the government's Censor Board.

Plans for elections next year have drawn criticism, with the 2008 redrafted constitution appearing to guarantee continuation of military rule.

The NLD, whose detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not allowed to run for office, are yet to announce whether they will participate.

Senior Burmese government officials, including prime minister Thein Sein, are in New York this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly, the first time a senior-level Burmese delegation has participated in 14 years.

Thu Wei said that the United States embassy in Rangoon had been "attentive" to the situation faced by opposition groups in Burma.

"They have been learning about our motives, I think they are just studying the situation and waiting to see if there is any sign of change [in Burma]," he said.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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