Info minister, journalists trade shots at press freedom ceremony

By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER

YANGON — Has access to government information improved over the past year? It depends who you ask, apparently.

Speaking at yesterday’s World Press Freedom Day ceremony in Yangon, Minister for Information U Pe Myint insisted that access to information had become easier during the first year of the National League for Democracy government.

Department officials were more willing to speak to journalists and provide data and other information, said the minister, a former editor.

“We have been keeping in touch with journalists and sharing government information so access to information has improved in this era,” he said, before acknowledging that “some people have a different opinion on that”.

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While the government has appointed spokespeople for each ministry, journalists were quick to point out at the event that these officials regularly don’t answer their phone or switch it off entirely.

Speaking after the minister, Myanmar Journalist Association chairman U Thiha Saw said access to information was “a little difficult” under the NLD. “Journalists who are really working out in the field know this is the real situation,” he said.

His commented were endorsed by representatives of the Myanmar Journalist Network, Myanmar Journalist Union and Burma News International.

“We are still have difficulty accessing information in ethnic areas,” said BNI representative Khine Myat Kyaw. “State and regional governments are discriminating against journalists in ethnic areas.

These comments reflect Frontier’s own experiences trying to interview government officials and access information.

Recently, when Frontier sought comment from ministers in the Yangon Region government, a personal assistant to one minister said their boss had not responded to requests for comment from journalists for six months.

Government officials also routinely ignore requests for information submitted under the News Media Law, which are supposed to receive a response within 14 days.

The World Press Freedom Day event was held at Chatrium Hotel on May 3 and was organized by the Ministry of Information together with support from UNESCO and the Swedish government.

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