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Is the Mon State Chief Minister avoiding the media?

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Three weeks after President U Htin Kyaw appointed the Mon State Chief Minister, U Min Ming Oo, April 5, it was reported that the state chief minister would only meet with the media once a month. By that account, it can be deduced that the chief minister doesn’t want to meet media groups if possible.

VOA Burmese’s interview with Mon State Chief Minister (Photo: VOA)
VOA Burmese’s interview with Mon State Chief Minister (Photo: VOA)

The writer of this article interviewed several media counterparts based in Moulmein, the capital of Mon State, regarding the chief minister’s wish to meet media groups once monthly.

“The chief minister finds it difficult to make time to meet reporters individually. The chief minister will meet reporters once a month and will discuss topics they want to discuss. The chief minister will also bring along other ministers on the day of the monthly press conference,” said Chief Editor U Ko Ko Zaw, of Thanlwin Times Journal based in Moulmein City, commenting on the Chief Minister statements.

The chief editor [of Thanlwin Times Journal] remarked that it’s not good enough to only meet with the media once a month. As the chief minister, he is responsible for the ministry posts of not only the chief minister, but the ministers for construction and city development as well.

“The former chief minister, U Ohn Myint’s, interviewed rarely during his term. However, it is okay as his government group met with the media appropriately. Now, the ministers of this new term government seem as if they are running away from the media. Thus far, only Min Htin Aung Han, the minister of Electric Power and Energy Ministry and Dr. Min Kyi Win, the minister of Natural Resource and Environmental Preservation, have met with media,” said U Ko Ko Zaw

According to U Thein Hlaing, the chairman of the Mon State Journalist Association, he has discussed with the government on behalf of journalist association, that it is necessary to maintain healthy relationships between the local reporters and government departments which requires meeting with government officials [and reporters] regularly.

“During the last governments term, we, the reporters, were only able to meet once with government officials and Hluttaw representatives. Later, we agreed collectively to request to meet again. However, after that one-off meeting, we did not get to meet the government throughout its five-year term. In this new government’s term, as soon as the chief minister left from the Hluttaw, I approached him and told him to meet with reporters. Then, he said if it’s suitable, he would do that,” said U Thein Hlaing.

U Thein Hlaing added that whenever he visited government offices, he came across reporters attempting to meet with the chief minister.

“About 4 to 5 reporters try to intercept the chief minister every morning regarding why the chief minister only wants to meet with journalists once a month. It is possible that he only wants to meet once a month because after setting the new government, there was the Thingyan [water] festival, and the government has just started working. Therefore, the government has not been fully implemented yet, and it will thus far only meet once a month,” said Ko Ko Zaw.

I, the author, would like to assert that it is not appropriate for reporters to demand comments from the ministers right now since the government just took the office and are not familiar with the reporters as people yet. Thus, the author wants to urge that the relationships between government officials and reporters should be established first, and then the government can build trust with reporters.

Recently, restrictions were made by the administration of Irrawaddy Division regarding information access. On April 27, a group of reporters staged a protest for not letting journalists meet with officials. This was when the chief minister and government officials of Irrawaddy Division were meeting with respective divisions’ department officials.

According to reporters gathering news at Hluttaw [parliament], the National League for Democracy-led government restricted media access at the Hluttaw conference. This kind of restriction is worse than the last government. The reporters also commented that although they expected to have more journalistic freedom in this democratic government, it turned out to be worse than the last government in terms of having access to current affairs at the Hluttaw.

However, the reporters in Mon State said that they are free to receive information in this new government’s term. Thus far, the reporters were informed to respect certain rules, including that reporters should dress smartly, avoid leaving during a meeting and to keep their phones on silent.

In a democratic system, there are pillars; the Parliament, the Government and the Judiciary. It is necessary to recognize the media as the fourth. The Hluttaw ministers and government elected by the public should not forget that they have a responsibility to provide transparent information in a timely fashion to the public. Although, they must be acknowledged as they are currently carrying out their tasks.

Transparency for the public is integral, as they should be aware of what the representatives that they elected are implementing and that in democracy, politicians should not avoid the media. If they do not want to be criticized, they should not be politicians.

Mon State reporters are being underdone if the chief minister is avoiding the media and it’s to their displeasure.

Hence, on behalf of reporters and journalists, I would like to urge the chief ministers with these 3 points;

– to hold a press conference, by the Mon State government, regarding the 100-day project

– to elect a spokesperson for the chief minister or set up a group in control of Mon State government’s press release

– to meet with reporters as appropriate.

And, thank you for your consideration.

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