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Northern Shan State Media Still Losing Access to Information and Being Threatened

Northern Shan State Media Still Losing Access to Information and Being Threatened

By Mai A Naing| Shwe Phee Myay

In northern Shan State, where there are armed groups active and lack of peace in the area, access to information by the media remains a challenge.

Accessing the information between the armed conflict, including government departments in northern Shan State, Journalists are facing a lack of response and intimidation in various ways.

Reporting in the midst of armed conflict
At the end of June 2017, two DVB and one Irrawaddy reporters who attended a drug burning ceremony of the Ta'ang National Liberation Army(TNLA) were charged under Article 17(1) of the Criminal Code by the Tatmadaw.

They have been instances of being detained for more than 60 days after being charged, and the news was a sensation in the media at the time.

DVB correspondent Ko Aye Naing, who was prosecuted at the time said “At the time, the administration seemed to think that if the media had links with the armed groups, many people would have focused on them,. The main Tatmadaw side is unwilling.”

He said doing like that is closing the ears of the people rather than the media authority.

In the aftermath of such incidents, not only the media in northern Shan State, but also journalists across the country have become cautious to contact the armed groups.

Up to 64 journalists have been charged during the four years of the NLD government's tenure, including a case filed by the Tatmadaw under Article 17(1), according to the Athan group Yangon-based.

Media who covering the armed conflict are facing fear under Article 17(1) of the law, which deals with unlawful association, which is the country's existing law, and is being misunderstood by the armed groups.

Ko Kan Thar, a reporter who often covers the ground in the midst of armed conflict, said that although some militants did not physically assault the media, they were seeing journalists with an intelligence perspective.

“When I go to cover the fighting, if the two sides clash, it does not mean that the bullet will not reach me. Such a danger is one thing. At that time, if I go to see the Tatmadaw or other armed groups, they often tell me do not take photos, not to post. They blocked us for security reasons, but some of subordinates saw us as spies.” By Ko Kan Thar.

On the other side, northern Shan State has been subjected to various forms of intimidation of journalists by the armed forces due to their dissatisfaction with reporting on the armed forces.

Myat Moe Thu, a Myanmar Now reporter, said it was more dangerous to cover the interests of the armed forces than to cover them during the armed conflict.

“During the armed conflict, they have given up. They do not give up on that interest. Even if they are not directly threatened, they threatened indirectly in various ways. They not saying we will do it. You are facing indirect warnings that you do this.”

She said that for the safety of her family members, she was avoiding information about the interests of the armed groups.

Chapter 4(b) of the Media Law contains inaccurate information, needs to be amended if it is in the print media and in the other, it must be reported as soon as possible.

But, on the ground, she said, she was being warned in various ways, not officially.

“What should happen is that if we have wrong information, we can issue an official letter and resolve it. They can sue. But they do not do that. As a result, I feel no safety everywhere I go. If it really happened, no one would know.” said by Myat Moe Thu.

U Myint Kyaw from Myanmar Press Council (MPC) said that the law should be amended to allow journalists to have free access to information and the media should not be prosecuted under the law before the law is amended.

Reporting on Department
Chapter 3(d) of the Media Rights contained in the News Media Law stipulates that they are entitled to entry and exit in accordance with the rules, the relevant departments and office, access to information in organizations.

“In northern Shan State, all departments except the general administration are weak in providing information. If we have any questions, to answer they told you have to write letters to get the above permission. They did not reply to the letter as they said.” according to Ko Kan Thar.

He said the failure to provide such information to the media was detrimental to the people who have the right to know and to the responsibility of a reporter who has to write with one voice.

In addition to narcotics, human trafficking is often happened in northern Shan State due to its proximity to the Chinese border. However, the main challenge for journalists in northern Shan State is that the department does not provide information when contacting about drugs and trafficking's.

U Myint Kyaw, Joint Secretary of MPC “If the media law does not provide information that should be made public, report it to the council. The council informs the relevant ministry. From there, they will be re-investigated and prosecuted. There is no direct legal action against anyone who does not respond. Until now, the media has complained to the council, but the ministry has not taken any action.” said.

During a record-breaking drug bust in Kaungkha and Loi Kham villages in Kutkai Township on June 2020, the anti-narcotics team was asked to report by reporters, but no response was received.

“The drug issue is something that people should know. It was officially announced by them, but they did not respond to the interview. It can be written in one voice and not included in the news, but it is very unfortunate that the people do not get the information they want to know.” By Ko Kan Thar.

Myat Moe Thu, a Myanmar Now correspondent, said the police station in northern Shan State and the Consumer Affairs Department, which is important to the public, also had difficulty accessing information.

United Nations Millennium Development Goals SDG 16.10 the Myanmar government has pledged to abide by international provisions that ensure access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms in accordance with international agreements.

The Myanmar government has pledged to implement the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include the right to information.

However, in northern Shan State, it's contrary to the government's commitment to the United Nations to provide access to information to the public.

“The government is discredited for not providing information. There is an OGT in the world as an accountable and transparent country. The countries involved are dignified. In order to be a member, it must have the right to information (RTI) law. Under the previous Thein Sein government, in 2014, he was interested in becoming a member, so he started drafting RTI. Until the new government is six years old, it has not yet reached the stage of discussion in the Hluttaw.” by U Myint Kyaw.

U Myint Kyaw also said that the non-disclosure of information was a major cause of corruption in the relevant departments.

Translated by Mai Naw Dang| Shwe Phee Myay
Photo- Mai Rukaw| Shwe Phee Myay