Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

No credible elections without media freedom

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 26 March 2010
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, No credible elections without media freedom, 26 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4bb06c531e.html [accessed 1 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association believe that, as things stand, the elections which the military government plans to hold this year will have no credibility because of the lack of freedom for both Burmese and international news media. Prior censorship, intimidation, imprisonment and expulsion of foreign reporters are all completely incompatible with a free election.

"The electoral laws established by the military government do not guarantee the media's right to freely cover the campaign and voting," the two organisations said. "All journalists, Burmese and foreign, should have unrestricted access to information, polling stations, all the participating parties (including their candidates), the Electoral Commission and the government. But this is definitely not the case."

The two organisations added: "Since the publication of the electoral laws, many governments and the United Nations have deplored the undemocratic framework created by the generals but ASEAN and China have remained outrageously silent. The international community has a duty to obtain a democratic framework for the elections or else they will have no credibility."

Reporters Without Borders wrote to ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan and the foreign ministers of six ASEAN member states on 11 March asking them to react to the lack of guarantees for press freedom in Burma, an ASEAN member, before the elections take place.

The two organisations have analysed recent developments affecting the environment for the media.

In a 17 March announcement, the military insisted that political parties that want to publish reports or programmes will have to get them approved by the censorship office within 90 days of their registration with the Electoral Commission.

The announcement made all electoral leaflets, newspapers, books and publications subject to the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, under which disseminating information that criticises the government or disturbs the peace is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Articles about the elections in several privately-owned publications have been censored this month, including interviews with candidates such as Shwe Ohn of the Union Democracy Alliance. According to several sources, a special group led by Lt. Gen. Myint Swe has been set up within the censorship office to monitor all articles relating to the elections.

The military government seems to have stepped up its control of the Internet in anticipation of the elections. Centralising network management in Yadanabon Cyber City will reportedly enable the authorities to monitor electronic communications better, above all with help from China.

Some Burmese Internet Service Providers have obtained censorship and surveillance equipment from the Chinese subsidiary of the Franco-American company Alcatel-Lucent. Reporters Without Borders and the NGO Sherpa have written to Alcatel-Lucent asking for an explanation about the sale of equipment in Burma, including equipment labelled "Lawful Interception Integrated."

The company has dismissed the allegations, insisting that it just provides telecommunications infrastructure under a project funded by China.

Nonetheless, a spokesman for the government-controlled ISP Hanthawaddy was quoted in an article in the Myanmar Times in May 2008 as saying Alcatel's Chinese subsidiary had provided a system for filtering and monitoring communications.

The military government has not so far given the international media any guarantees. The order of expulsion of CNN Southeast Asia correspondent Dan Rivers announced today after just 24 hours in the country bodes ill for the treatment that the international media will get during the elections. Rivers, who was in the capital, was asked to leave despite a press visa authorising him to cover the Armed Forces Day military parade.

Finally, Burmese news media that are based abroad, such as Democratic Voice of Burma, are still banned from operating within Burma although they are the main source of news for Burmese. At least 12 journalists are currently in prison, some of them serving jail terms of more than 20 years.

Burma was ranked 171st out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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