Myanmar to offer foreign press visas
- Published: 12/02/2013 at 04:25 PM
- Online news:
Myanmar will offer members of the foreign media short and long-term visas under new press freedom regulations.
Foreign reporters will be able to stay in the country for up to a year under new rules intended to give local and foreign media greater access to government officials.
The laws will come into effect around mid-April, deputy minister for information and presidential spokesman U Ye Htut told the Guardian.
"In the past, the government issued journalist visas to try to control the journalist's movements," he said.
"Now we are issuing the visa to allow the journalist access to the ministries … If he wants to interview a government official but doesn't have a journalist visa, he may not get access [to the official].
Foreign journalists, even those on holiday, have in the past resorted to entering Myanmar on tourist visas to get round strict immigration laws.
The relaxing of some draconian press legislation follows media-coaching sessions for government ministers overseen by Unesco and local media late last year, Mr Ye Htut said.
"In the past, many journalists would enter Myanmar with tourist visas, so if [government officials] made the mistake of talking with journalists, they would lose their job. That is why they are very careful, and sometimes very reluctant, to talk with foreign journalists," he explained.
Press freedom groups gave the news a cautious welcome.
"This could be a positive development towards greater media freedom in Burma because in the past, ministers and military officials would never speak with foreign journalists," the Committee to Protect Journalists' Southeast Asian representative, Shawn Crispin told the Guardian.
"But we have some journalists here in Bangkok who were allowed [into Myanmar] last year and reported somewhat critically, and now they are seeing long delays in the processing of their next journalist visas, some for two or three months already."
Some foreign journalists working in Myanmar, along with local news outlets, have reportedly been the target of “state sponsored” email hacking in recent months.
Google has emailed journalists to warn them of possible attacks on their email accounts, according to reports over the weekend, which have been denied by the Myanmar government.
Mr Ye Htut called on Google to identify those responsible “because the vague reference to state-sponsored attackers hurts the image of the government.”
“There is no state-sponsored attack on individual accounts,” he said. “That’s not a policy of our government.”
Mr Ye Htut said he also received one of the hacking warnings on his own Gmail account on Monday, about one week after most of the Myanmese journalists received theirs. He posted a screen photo on his Facebook page to back up the claim.