IFJ welcomes presidential promises on jailed Burmese journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed a breakthrough in relations between the Myanmar government and its media, following a meeting between Burma’s Interim Press Council and President Thein Sein.

The meeting, held at Thein Sein’s presidential ranch, on August 1 was arranged at the request of Myanmar’s Interim Press Council following growing concern over the government’s jailing of journalists.

The meeting was prompted by the recent sentencing on July 10 of four journalists and the CEO of the Yangon-based Unity weekly news and current affairs magazine to ten years’ hard labour for publishing reports claiming the existence of a chemical weapons factory linked to China. The journalists were found guilty of allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act 1923.

Another four journalists from the Bi Mon Te Nay (Midday Sun) newspaper in Myanmar were also arrested and detained July 7 for a report claiming that politician Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders had been appointed to an interim government to serve until after next year’s elections. The journalists were targeted as allegedly violating section 5 of the Emergency Provisions Act 1950 which forbids the “spread [of] false news, knowing, or having reason to believe that it is not true”.

After last Friday’s meeting, Press Council secretary, Kyaw Min Swe, said the president had promised to do “as best he can within the boundaries of the law” to assist those media professionals currently serving lengthy prison terms.

Kyaw Min Swe said they also “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”.

 “We looked into the issues and the ways we can prevent them from happening again. These issues arise because there is no mediation body,” he said.

The IFJ has documented a concerning decline in media freedoms and actions against journalists in 2014, a disappointing turnaround from the promise of the 2012 media reforms.

“This is a welcome return to dialogue and consultation between the government and the press council, which also means more communication between journalist unions and associations and working journalists,” IFJ acting director, Jane Worthington, said.

“Myanmar’s media is in a state of evolution, emerging after years of government censorship. It is important that the government understands that in order to develop democracy, the media also needs to be part of the dialogue to create a free and ethical media.”