Call for government to allow foreign journalists to cover disaster

Call for government to allow foreign journalists to cover disaster
New York, May 7, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government of Burma to allow journalists to travel to the country to report on the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. CPJ is gravely concerned by reports that the country’s military government has refused to issue journalist visas to foreign reporters who have requested to enter the country to cover the recent disaster, which has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people across much of southern coastal Burma.

According to several journalists seeking to enter Burma from Thailand, the Burmese embassy in Bangkok has either refused to accept or failed to process visa requests submitted by a number of foreign journalists. They asked not to be identified by name for fear of jeopardizing their chances of eventually getting permission to enter Burma. The ruling junta has also refused to grant access to various foreign aid organizations that are seeking to provide assistance to remote disaster-hit areas.  

“We call upon the Burmese authorities to lift its ban on journalist visas and allow both foreign and local journalists to report freely on the impact of Cyclone Nargis,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Journalists have an important role to play in the emergency response to such natural disasters. Their reporting often uncovers previously undiscovered areas of need, and they help keep the international community of donors informed of conditions on the ground.”

Government-controlled broadcast media have in recent days shown images of the disaster and clips of government officials providing assistance to affected citizens. Due to government restrictions, only a handful of international news organizations have been allowed to base foreign reporters inside the country.

On Monday, the authorities did not allow BBC reporter Andrew Harding to enter the country on a tourist visa, according to news reports. The government-run MRTV reported today that Harding had been blacklisted after he entered and reported from the country on a tourist visa in June 2006 and September 2007, according to Mizzima News, an exile-run media group based in New Delhi.

In the wake of the cyclone, the main international wire services, including The Associated Press and Reuters, have been able to send limited reports out of the country through their Burmese reporters.

Access to foreign news reports carried over the Internet has been limited among the general population due to citywide electricity outages in Rangoon. Several foreign reporters were also refused journalist visas during last year’s demonstrations in which anti-government groups protested for several weeks before the military opened fire on them on September 27. Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist with Tokyo-based news and photo agency APF News, was among those killed.