Myanmar to keep close watch on media before poll

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Oct. 31, 2010, 10:16 a.m. | World — by Reuters


YANGON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Myanmar's military government has ordered local journalists representing foreign news organisations to attend mandatory field trips ahead of its Nov. 7 election in an apparent move to restrict reporting of the controversial poll. Journalists will be sent to different parts of the country to accompany diplomats on state-sponsored guided tours, and media will be barred from going within 50 metres of polling stations, the Information Ministry said on Sunday.

Foreign journalists and observers have been barred from attending the election, the first in two decades in the former British colony and widely dismissed as an elaborate stunt to cement the military's 48-year grip on power.

Internet services in Myanmar have been sporadic and mostly unavailable for the past seven days, which activists believe is an attempt to restrict coverage and discussion of the election.

State media in Myanmar is tightly controlled and serves as the mouthpiece for the reclusive generals. Some foreign news organisations are permitted to hire local journalists vetted by the government.

Two parties backed by the regime and comprised of recently retired generals and their proxies are expected to sweep the ballot against pro-democracy opponents contesting no more than 14 percent of constituencies.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine, said the mandatory media tours were probably an attempt by the government to appear transparent while ensuring reporters were under close watch.

"The regime is always paranoid. The political temperature is rising now and there's a chance the military's proxy parties might not get the support they hope for," he said.

"They want to make sure reporters in the country, and outside, have no idea what's really going on."
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