Thursday, February 3, 2011

Most reporters leave Naypyidaw, return home

Thursday, 03 February 2011 19:36 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Most of the reporters who steamed into Naypyidaw to cover the opening of the National Parliament have concluded that the military regime is serious about not allowing coverage by the media and have returned home.

Burmese policemen man a check-point on a road leading
to the national parliament as shuttle buses (R) carry
Members of Parliament to the newly-completed compound
after inspection, in the capital Naypyidaw on January
31, 2010. Burma's new junta-dominated parliament
opened on January 31 as lawmakers assembled in secrecy
for their first legislative session since the late 1980s
following a widely panned election. After a rare election in
November, marred by the absence of democracy icon
Aung San Suu Kyi and claims of cheating and intimidation,
the junta was set to easily dominate Burma's first
parliamentary session in two decades. AFP PHOTO
Eighteen reporters from domestic and foreign news agencies arrived in Naypyidaw, mostly at their own expense, despite not receiving permission from the Information Ministry to cover the historic first sessions, which convened for the first time in 22 years on January 31.

Some reporters faced questioning by authorities and had to scramble to guesthouses to try to find lawmakers who could give them an inside picture of what went on, and who said what, in the luxurious chambers of the new Parliament buildings.

‘We cannot go even to a place near the Parliament building’, said a reporter with a foreign news agency, who lives in Rangoon. ‘It’s now hopeless, and I decided not to stay any longer’.

‘It’s disappointing. We’d like to write stories and show the readers our photos and video clips. They said the age of democracy had started, but it’s democracy without freedom’, he told Mizzima.

The Parliament continued to meet on Thursday, after electing three vice presidents.

All of the vice presidents elected, from both houses, were from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). They are incumbent Prime Minister Thein Sein and lawmaker Sai Mauk Kham. The identity of a third vice president elected by the military is not known. The state-run media has yet to give a full report on the activities of both houses after four days of sessions. Thein Sein is widely expected to be elected President on Friday.

Foreign reporters said that in order to stay at hotels with Internet facilities, it cost them US$ 60 (51,000 kyat) a night for lodging only and, including meals, up to $100 a day or more.

Reporters were not allowed to take photographs near the Parliament building.

‘As soon as we took out our cameras, they followed and questioned us’, a reporter told Mizzima.

Reporters said that four journalists were taken in and questioned by police on January 31, after they took photos of security personnel deployed in the area. Their cameras were inspected and searched.

Moreover, a reporter who visited a guesthouse run by a municipal committee where some MPs were staying were given a warning by security personnel.

‘It’s just too dangerous’, a photojournalist told Mizzima.

Only four reporters from state-run Myanmar Radio and Myawaddy TV were given permission to cover the Parliament. They even were not allowed to enter the Parliament and had to shoot video from a room surrounded by glass.

‘This should be open to the public’, a journalist said. ‘Now the people are in the dark about their Parliament’s proceedings. We see reporters asking parliamentarians questions in the foreign news media. But we cannot get such freedom here’.

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