Myanmar: Journalists face restrictions amid the pandemic

Journalists and media workers face travel restrictions due to the government’s strict new stay-at-home orders. The restriction will also affect foreign journalists who plan to cover the upcoming elections as they will not be able to travel to the country. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urge the authorities to exempt journalists from the restrictions so that they can report freely during this important election period.

A man walking past a barrier blocking access to minor roads next to a sign recommending residents to stay at home in Yangon on September 30, 2020. Credit: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

The government has ordered a regionwide stay-at-home order for the Yangon region, effective from September 21. The order was an extension of the same restriction that already applied in 28 of 33 townships with the Yangon region. Under this order, residents are barred from travelling between townships. Although several professions are excluded from the restriction, such as doctors, emergency workers, and police officers, the rule still applies to journalists. The restriction also stops the work of drivers of newspaper delivery trucks.

The lockdown measure has impacted on the media industry, particularly the production of newspapers since all private national newspapers are based in the city. Four national newspapers, the Standard Times, 7 Day Daily, the Myanmar Times, and the Voice Daily announced their decision to suspend circulation of the newspaper from September 23. Journalists are able to work from home and publish online articles. The publication of state-owned newspaper will not be affected. The Myanmar government has allocated funding for journalists who difficult to meet their ends which will be given through journalists’ organisations.

The Myanmar Press Council has submitted a request to the President to lift the restriction for media workers in light of its crippling impact on the industry.

The country has also banned international commercial flights since the coronavirus outbreak in March, making it difficult for foreign journalists to enter Myanmar. The Election Commission has announced the schedule for the next general election will be held on November 8. The polling will take place in all townships, including in conflict zones. The visa processes and logistical difficulties also affected the entry for foreign aid workers and observers.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), Myanmar reported more than 5,400 additional Covid-19 cases and 134 deaths in the period of October 1 up to October 5.

The IFJ said: “Access for media workers is critical, especially during a health crisis and in the lead up to an election. Journalists are frontline workers in gathering information that may save lives and help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. IFJ urges the authorities to ensure the free movement for journalists so that they can work freely and ensure that authorities are accountable during an election campaign.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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