Special Branch collecting data on Myanmar’s private media outlets

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about the state of press freedom in Myanmar as police continue to probe news publications even after the country’s Interim Press Council has called for the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Special Branch police to drop their investigation.

The Special Branch intelligence unit has summoned editors of news publications to inquire about their business procedures, including financial records. At least seven privately-owned weekly journals were questioned last week. The government insists that these meetings are merely about collecting basic information and that it is nothing to worry about.

Despite this, Myanmar’s Interim Press Council had begun a 10-day campaign on Tuesday, July 2 collecting signatures to a petition calling on parliament to determine whether the police probe is a violation of media rights.

News editor and press council member Zaw Thet Htwe said: “We will send these signatures to parliament and ask lawmakers whether the Special Branch has the power of right to question news journals. If not, the parliament can summon the Special Branch and question them about it.

“We are doing it because we think that it is an indirect threat to media freedom. We are going to send these signatures to parliament to let the MPs know that people have lost their rights. Then, the Ministry of Home Affairs can be made aware of what is going on,” he said.

This is not the first time Myanmar has slipped back into behaviour that undermines press freedom. In March, authorities enacted two new media laws of censorship that open the door to future censorship. The IFJ urges the Myanmar government to uphold the basic tenets of press freedom.

The Special Branch must clarify its intent on why it is seeking the data on Myanmar’s privately-owned media outlets. The government must acknowledge that the media performs a vital function in a healthy democracy and should be free from any hint of government interference.

There is no place for security forces and units of the police to mount anything that suggests agencies of the state are engaging in authoritarian data-gathering and spying on private media organisations.