RANGOON — Burma’s Interim Press Council has called for the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Special Branch police to drop their investigation into the financial records of private local print publications.
The Interim Press Council has also urged the Special Branch (SB) to conduct any future probes of a similar nature in accordance with official investigative procedures, and to work with the Press Council in doing so.
At least seven private weekly journals, including The Irrawaddy, have been questioned by the Special Branch since last week, with officers seeking information on how the publications are surviving amid reports of financial difficulties for Burma’s print media. Several major daily newspapers, including The Voice and Democracy Today, have also faced questions.
“They asked to meet on the 22nd [Sunday] at the SB office to ask how we are surviving; who is supporting us,” Aung Tun Win, an administrative officer at the Unity weekly journal, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
The Interim Press Council said in a statement on Wednesday that “The council assumes that it is not an appropriate act to summon [publications] without official order, instruction or procedure, as the news media currently publishing in Myanmar are reputable media that have their own standards and goals, and are publishing with official permissions from the concerned [government authorities].”
Officers from the Rangoon Division SB office also summoned editors “to help solve the problems between government agencies and the media,” a senior Irrawaddy editor quoted an SB officer as saying.
The Special Branch, under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has been asking the private weeklies and dailies to report their income, circulation numbers and payroll data, among other things.
Ma Thida, chairwoman of the writers’ advocacy group PEN Myanmar, said the investigation was outside of the SB police’s jurisdiction.
“It’s absolutely not the job of SB to do this,” she told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “Even if they want to investigate money laundering, there is Burma’s Special Investigation Bureau [for that purpose]. Even if they want, there is the Press Council and the Myanmar Journalists Network; they should discuss the situation with them.
“The reason for their investigation is not solid either. If they want to investigate money laundering, rather than investigating the media, there are also other sectors they could investigate. It’s just not normal.”
Two senior editors from The Irrawaddy met with Police Maj. Kyaw Soe on Thursday at the SB office in Rangoon, after a pair of officers from the branch first visited The Irrawaddy’s Rangoon newsroom.
Kyaw Soe said the sit-down was not related to any ongoing investigation, instead describing it as a “friendly meeting” that would later be reported to more senior SB officials. Editors had a right to decline to answer, and would not be coerced into responding, he said.
Like other news organizations over the past week, The Irrawaddy was questioned on a range of operational matters, including its newsroom structure, the number of staff employed, circulation figures for The Irrawaddy’s two print publications, and expenditures and income.
Kyaw Soe also asked for details on The Irrawaddy’s editorial policy and political stance, noting that coverage on the same events in Burma tended to vary widely in local media accounts.
The Irrawaddy declined to answer business-related questions, on the principle that financial matters are the concern of Burma’s Internal Revenue Department.