Media Covering Myanmar Coup Face Harassment, Restrictions

Censorship, threats and internet blocks have created a climate of uncertainty in Myanmar since the military coup and could set press freedom back 10 years, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.   When the military took power on February 1, it imposed a yearlong state of emergency, detained key opposition figures and activists, imposed an internet shutdown and FILE – Protesters run after police fire warning shots and use water cannons to disperse them during a protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, Feb. 9, 2021.Reporters in Myanmar told VOA it was too risky to speak with foreign media or rights groups, and a few described receiving telephone calls from officials asking questions about whom they worked for. Some reporters said they were advised to be careful handling sensitive data when reporting on the coup and protests in case their notes and devices were used as evidence against them.      “What with censorship, threats and intimidation, press freedom has suddenly been set back 10 years in 10 days,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement. “The military need to understand that the people of Myanmar are now used to a free press. A sudden return to the past is out of the question.” Myanmar had made gains in media freedom in the past decade, after the end of military rule in February 2011. The country ranks 139 out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, according to FILE – A newspaper seller points at a front page of a newspaper in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 2, 2021.The military needs to respect press freedom and allow journalists to work freely, the International Federation of Journalists said in a statement. “The best interests of the people of Myanmar are best served by the truth, not its suppression.”   The digital rights group Access Now described the internet blackout as “incredibly troubling.””There is chaos and confusion, and the people of Myanmar — and the world — have a right to document events, access information and communicate with each other,” Felicia Anthonio, who is part of the group’s Keep It On campaign, which tracks shutdowns, said in a statement. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned moves by the military to disrupt access to information, calling the block on Facebook a “crude attempt at censoring news.”  “Social media and communication platforms are crucial for journalists to report the news as democracy is upended,” CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said. In a briefing with the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), Myanmar journalist Soe Myint said reporters were taking precautions to avoid drawing attention to themselves, including using cellphones instead of professional cameras while reporting, and changing locations frequently.  Soe Myint, who works for the news outlet Mizzima, told IPI that a more internet-savvy generation would make it harder for the military to cut off access to information. 

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