Myanmar journalists say government failing to protect press freedom: survey

By Reuters   May 3, 2018 | 05:23 pm PT
Myanmar journalists say government failing to protect press freedom: survey
Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are transported in a police vehicle after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar, April 20, 2018 . Photo by Reuters/Ann Wang
Half of 200 journalists interviewed believed they had less freedom as journalists than a year earlier.

Journalists in Myanmar believe their government is failing to defend media freedom despite the transition from harsh military rule to an elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a survey published to mark World Press Freedom Day on Thursday.

Activist group Free Expression Myanmar and its partner organizations interviewed 200 journalists between January and April, finding almost half believed they had less freedom as journalists than a year earlier.

“Journalists are frustrated by the government’s failure to implement its election manifesto commitments to increase media freedom,” the group said in a report on its survey.

Asked to rate the government’s success on defending media freedom, 79 percent of journalists questioned for the survey answered “low” or “very low.”

The government’s main spokesman, Zaw Htay, referred Reuters’ questions about the survey results to the information ministry.

Reuters contacted three officials at the Ministry of Information, who all declined to comment and referred questions to other officials.

Myanmar authorities have detained journalists even though the military handed over the reins of government to Nobel laureate Suu Kyi in early 2016.

Some authorities are still controlled by the army, which operates without civilian oversight.

Two Reuters reporters were arrested on Dec. 12 and face up to 14 years in prison under accusations they breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

The survey comes after Paris-based Reporters Without Borders last week moved Myanmar down in its annual press freedom index by six places to 137th out of 180 nations, citing legal action against journalists and restrictions on access to conflict-affected areas.

“Journalists increasingly believe that the government, including the military, is the greatest threat to media freedom in Myanmar, both through its continued use of old oppressive laws which it has no real plans to amend and its adoption of new oppressive laws,” the group said in its report.

Several journalists have faced legal action in connection with their work over the past year or more, but according to Advocacy group Athan, or “voice”, the two Reuters journalists - Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 - are the only reporters in detention.

Several U.S. lawmakers expressed solidarity with Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and other imprisoned journalists, to mark World Press Freedom Day. Nine U.S. senators signed a letter to the two men promising to continue to urge the country’s authorities to release them and drop all charges.

A court is holding hearings to decide whether the two Reuters journalists will face trial for allegedly handling secret government documents.

“Press Freedom Day is very meaningful for us,” Wa Lone told reporters on the steps of a Yangon court on Wednesday, following the most recent hearing.

“We know how important it is because we spend every day in prison.”

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