The Interim Press Council, a media panel in Burma, will formally question the Union Parliament regarding the recent inquisition on financial details of private daily newspapers and weekly journals by the police’s Special Intelligence Department, a move the press body believes serves as a threat to its freedom.
The Special Intelligence Department, commonly known as the Special Branch, started visiting various media companies last week, including the Voice Daily, Myanmar Post, People Era Weekly, The Irrawaddy, and the now-shuttered Unity Weekly, to interrogate staff on the financial details of how their paper is run.
Zaw Thet Htwe, Interim Press Council member, said that the press panel is now collecting signatures from media workers in order to submit a request to formally question the Union Parliament about the Special Branch’s actions.
“The Special Branch conducting investigations into media publications is indication of a threat to press freedom,” he said. “We feel that it is a form of harassment and very disturbing.”
“We would like to urge the authorities to only act within the jurisdiction of the law.”
David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Burma, said in a statement that the Special Branch’s actions were a “subtle form of pressure to curb the confidence of the Burmese media” and added that this was an indication of the government backsliding on the media reforms touted early in the country’s opening.
“The Burmese government needs to cease sinister threats, release imprisoned journalists, and permit the media to do their crucial work to report without state interference on fast-moving developments in the nation’s politics, society, and economy,” he said.
DVB’s Rangoon bureau chief, Toe Zaw Latt, said in an email on Tuesday that the Special Branch has not visited DVB’s offices, adding that he believes the Special Branch is “focusing on print publications at this stage.”