In a letter sent on World Press Freedom Day by the Burmese military, the country’s media have been warned against covering statements from the Kokang ethnic rebel militia.
According to the letter, issued to the Interim Myanmar Press Council by the armed forces’ Accurate Information Team on 3 May*, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army’s presence at an ongoing ethnic summit in Panghsang, northern Shan State, constitutes unlawful association. Burma’s media have been told not to broadcast or print news of statements released by the group in the talks, or risk facing legal action.
A member of the Interim Press Council, Zaw Thet Htwe, told DVB that the military warning was ambiguous, and meant to restrict freedom of the press.
“There were warnings that reporting on groups deemed ‘unlawful’ by the government could mean facing legal action under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act, without any clear explanation on which groups were deemed unlawful of those engaged in peace talks with the government,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.
“This can create confusion, and we interpret it as an attempt to reassume control of the media.”
Writer and editor Myo Myint Nyein said lack of cooperation by the Burmese military with the media made it harder to cover military affairs.
“We need mutual cooperation with the military – back in U Ne Win’s days, reporters were embedded with the troops fighting at the front lines but we don’t have that chance nowadays,” said Myo Myint Nyein.
The Accurate Information Team recently issued an official warning to the weekly Eleven Myanmar news journal for reporting on the fighting in the Kokang region based on information from a social media post.
At the end of March, the body also complained to the Myanmar Times for publishing a cartoon strip that satirised land confiscations by the military across the country.
World Press Freedom Day was marked at an event in Rangoon, attended by Aung San Suu Kyi, Information Minister Ye Htut and UNESCO Burma country head Sardar Umar Alam.
*Not 3 April as per the original report.