The new head of the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) will use his position to shield government and military officials from prosecution by the International Criminal Court and to train journalists who lack the skill to do so themselves, he told state media after he was elected to the top spot on Saturday.
“The law should stipulate provisions for the involvement of the MPC in the national-level issues and in opposing the international pressures. The current Media Law is weak in dealing with issues such as [the] ICC’s acts to file a lawsuit against Myanmar officials, which amounts to insulting the country’s sovereignty. The MPC should be entrusted with the power to get involved in such matters,” MPC chair and veteran journalist Ohn Kyaing told the Global New Light of Myanmar.
He also proposed the establishment of new schools that would train local journalists to deflect international criticism, saying that “today’s media persons, especially youths, have weakness in knowledge, experience, and ethics”.
Ohn Kyaing, who began his journalistic career in 1945, before Myanmar’s independence from the British Empire, has courted controversy in the past. As vice chair of the MPC – a position he held before the recent election – he told Myanmar’s supreme commander Min Aung Hlaing that “the Tatmadaw and the media are of the same mind and aim”.
The MPC became independent from the Ministry of Information in 2013, ostensibly in order to advocate more effectively for journalistic freedom and to resolve disputes involving journalists. However, it has accrued a poor track record in those areas, instead focusing on defending Myanmar’s image against criticism.
The vice chair before Ohn Kyaing was Aung Hla Tun, a former Reuters reporter who was appointed as Myanmar deputy minister of information in January. Speaking at a media forum in Aug. 2017, he said: “The greatest responsibility of media today in Myanmar is safeguarding our national image, which has been badly tarnished by some unethical international media reports. The international media often tends to sensationalize their reports and practice agenda-setting when covering sensitive issues for various reasons.”
Under Aung Hla Tun’s leadership, the MPC failed to release a statement in support of three journalists and their driver who were arrested for allegedly importing and flying drone near the parliament compound in Naypyidaw.
The council did release a statement in support of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested in Dec. 2017 while investigating a military massacre of Rohingya men in northern Rakhine State, but its members were publicly criticized for taking a week to do so.