By Ahunt Phone Myat
Burmese journalists have been told by a senior government minister not to pass information to exiled media outlets whom he claims are tarnishing perceptions among the public of the Thein Sein administration.
The warning came on 16 July during a meeting between Myint Swe, Rangoon division cabinet minister, and local reporters. The meetings had originally been slated as monthly events, but Myint Swe said that the problems caused by details being sent to non-state media groups may scupper this.
As part of the new government’s attempts to shed its maligned reputation surrounding the treatment of media workers in Burma, and to project an image of transparency, it announced earlier this year that regular press conferences would be held in the former capital.
These however have met with little success – a number of senior Rangoon editors are believed to have boycotted the meetings, claiming that they were being used by the government to circulate propagandist reports. Moreover, domestic journalists appear to have quietly rejected official demands not to pass the contents of the meetings to exile groups, like DVB.
“The outside media is being provided with information by someone attending the meetings – it could be no one else but someone in here,” a source at the 16 July meeting quoted Myint Swe as saying.
“[The exile media] is not allowed to attend these meetings and those of you being allowed to attend should contemplate this. If we hold these meetings more often, then there will be more reports by [the exile media]. That is why we are now not holding them often.”
He said that “erroneous” accounts of the meetings broadcast by non-state groups were “made with either deliberate intentions or pure misunderstanding”, adding that it could “cause misunderstanding by the public regarding us [the government].”
The Rangoon cabinet has so far held three such meetings: around 60 media publications attended the first meeting on 10 May, around 40 on 17 May, and only 28 on 16 July.
A number of exile Burmese media groups exist, including The Irrawaddy Magazine, Mizzima and Shan Herald Agency for News, mainly operating out of Thailand but feeding information back into Burma. The BBC, Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) also broadcast daily news into Burma via satellite television and shortwave radio.
A space is reserved on the back page of the New Light of Myanmar daily newspaper accusing the BBC and VOA of “sowing hatred among the people”, and RFA and DVB of “generating public outrage”.