Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Media freedom discussed with visiting UN special rapporteur

UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee heard about media issues in Myanmar when she met with members of the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) Thursday in Yangon after returning from a visit to Rakhine State.

Yanghee Lee meets members of the Myanmar Press Council at their office on 35th Street in Yangon, July 13. Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesYanghee Lee meets members of the Myanmar Press Council at their office on 35th Street in Yangon, July 13. Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

U Thiha Saw, MPC secretary, told reporters after the meeting that issues discussed with the UN special rapporteur included the case of U Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of The Voice newspaper and three journalists arrested in Shan State.

“Our main message to her was, the government needs to do more to show that it respects the media,” said U Thiha Saw.

For instance, he said, the way the government handles media events for covering issues in Rakhine State shows that it still needs to do more.

“International actors want to hear from domestic media organisations on that particular matter. We want to convince the international community that there are still independent domestic voices,” he said.

Despite making several requests for a meeting, the MPC has not heard from the NLD government since it took office, he added.

Following a satire published in The Voice, the Tatmadaw sued the columnist and the editor-in-chief under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Charges against the author were later dropped.

Local authorities sued journalists from the Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act, after they returned from covering a drug-burning event hosted by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Shan State, which is still fighting against the government.

The UN official was also informed of the plight of domestic news organisations, according to U Aung Hla Tun, vice chair of the press council.

“Most domestic media organisations are not commercially viable. State-run newspapers get nearly 90 pc of commercial advertising, which is threatening the existence of many local papers,” he said.

Yanghee Lee asked them about U Soe Moe Tun, a journalist murdered last year in Monywa, Sagaing Region.

Press council members said getting news is “harder now”, since the NLD government took office last year. They said they are trying to amend the Media Law so that charges made against reporters will come before the council first.

Currently the media law says if any news organisation is considered to have breached media ethics, “the aggrieved department, organisation or individual shall have the right to complain to the council” or sue reporters or media organisations without complaining to the council.

“This must be amended to make it mandatory to complain to the council first so that we can try to negotiate disputes between reporters and other parties,” said U Thiha Saw.

Yanghee Lee is expected to meet with heads of state in Nay Pyi Taw before her trip ends on July 21. Since her visit kicked off on July 10, she has met with activists seeking to abolish Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. When she visited Rakhine this week, she was met by protesters in Sittwe and Buthidaung townships.

She will present a report on her findings about the human rights situation in Myanmar to the UN General Assembly in October.