President promises mediating role for Press Council

President promises mediating role for Press Council

Burma’s Interim Press Council, a semi-independent oversight body established in 2012, met with President Thein Sein on Friday in Naypyidaw, where they agreed to a mandate granting the council mediation rights over disputes involving the media. 

“We reached an agreement for the government and President Thein Sein to recognise the Press Council as a mediation body that will communicate with concerned ministries regarding issues with the media,” said Kyaw Min Swe, secretary of the Press Council.

Regarding recent judicial cases that resulted in what many see as disproportionately harsh sentences for journalists, he added that “we looked into the issues and the ways we can prevent them from happening again. These issues arise because there is no mediation body.” 

The meeting, held at Thein Sein’s presidential ranch, was arranged at the request of the Interim Press Council because of its growing concern over the government’s jailing of journalists. Kyaw Min Swe said that the president promised to do “as best he can within the boundaries of the law” to assist those media professionals currently serving lengthy prison terms.

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Both parties agreed to hold regular, quadripartite meetings that would bring the country’s “four estates” to the table; meetings will include executive, judicial, legislative and media representatives. 

The meeting was attended by eight members of the council — Deputy-chairman Pho Thaukkyar, Secretary Kyaw Min Swe, Joint-Secretary Nan Kalyar and members Khin Maung Htay, Pe Myint, Thiha Saw, Ye Min Oo and Zaw Thet Htwe — and five members of the government. President Thein Sein was joined by Aung Min, Tin Naing Thein and Khin Yi, as well as the freshly appointed Minister of Information Ye Htut.

Formerly deputy information minister and the president’s spokesperson, Ye Htut was sworn in as information minister on Friday morning during the last day of the current parliamentary session. He was appointed by the president on Wednesday after his predecessor, Aung Kyi, was “allowed” to resign in the latest in a trend of sudden and politically jarring ministerial shake-ups.

Speaking to DVB by phone on Friday, Ye Htut said of his new responsibilities that, “we will try to resolve issues with the media through the Press Council. But the problem is, no matter how much the government relies on the Press Council, the plan will not work if media workers themselves do not respect the council’s role.” 

Friday’s meeting was the third ever held between the president and the Interim Press Council since its formation two years ago.

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