Deputy Minister for Defence Brigadier General Aung Thaw is to become a media spokesperson for the ministry, Deputy Information Minister U Ye Htut told The Myanmar Times last week.
“I have been informed that the post will go to Brig Gen Aung Thaw but don’t yet know whether he has assumed this responsibility,” he said by email, adding that he will take over the role from Lieutenant Colonel Kyaw Thu, head of the Chief of Staff’s Office in the Ministry of Defence.
Observers said the appointment of a spokesperson was badly needed and would help to improve understanding and communication between the people and Tatmadaw. Journalists regularly complain that they are unable to get a response or accurate information from the Tatmadaw, which makes it hard for them to ensure balance on military-related issues, particularly the conflict in Kachin State.
“When a dispute arises, if the media can bring the opinions and concerns of the Tatmadaw to light, people will have greater trust in the Tatmadaw. More transparency will improve accountability,” political analyst U Win Min said.
However, the spokesman should be able to speak openly without having to be afraid of his superior, Myanmar Journalists Association chairman Maung Wuntha said.
Greater transparency from not only the Tatmadaw but also other government departments would help people understand their difficulties, he added.
“I think they have appointed a spokesman so as to make people familiar with the Tatmadaw’s activities. But because it’s a new position it is difficult to guess how much he can say and how open he can be,” said U Win Htein, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative from the National League for Democracy who served in the Tatmadaw for 18 years, retiring as a captain.
U Aung Thu Nyein from Vahu Development Institute said the Tatmadaw was at a disadvantage because, unlike the Kachin Independence Army, it does not allow journalists to visit and report from the front lines. Appointing a spokesman will not solve this problem but represents a step forward, U Aung Thu Nyein said.
In countries such as Indonesia and South Korea, the military not only appoints a spokesperson but also releases annual white papers outlining its planned tasks.
“The more the [spokesperson] answers, the more the [Tatmadaw] will win support from the people. It will be good for both the military and people,” he said.
He said the freedom afforded the spokesperson to respond to queries from the media was more important than the person’s rank.
Ma Nyein Nyein Pyae, a reporter who visited Laiza recently to report on the conflict, said she welcomed the appointment of a spokesperson.
“When we write news, there has been no one to ask for the government’s side. It is better if we can get the voices of both sides,” she said.
Translated by Thit Lwin