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Military government urged to issue press visas to foreign media, lift prior censorship in wake of cyclone

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call on the Burmese government to grant visas to foreign journalists who want to go and cover the aftermath of the cyclone that has devastated the south of the country and Rangoon. They also call for the lifting of prior censorship for the Burmese news media.

"The authorities should respond to the disaster that has hit Burma by opening up and allowing the foreign press in," Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said. "It is shocking to see them refuse to grant press visas while appealing for international aid. In view of the emergency, the military government should also stop subjecting the Burmese media to prior censorship, as they can play a key role in helping the victims and reconstruction."

The military government announced at a news conference on 6 May 2008 in Rangoon that Cyclone Nargis killed at least 22,000 people as it battered the country on 3 and 4 May.

Only official reports are being permitted for the time being. Burmese TV stations are broadcasting footage of the damage and of the military helping victims. In reality, many Burmese are complaining that they are not getting any help. Journalists working for the Burmese media in exile say they have information that indicates that the regime is underestimating the toll from the cyclone and is trying to show that it is coping with the situation.

"Near Rangoon, a witness told me that soldiers arrived with a state TV crew to film the distribution of clothes to cyclone victims but, in practice, they gave out almost nothing," a Burmese journalist based in Thailand said.

There is no information about the cyclone on, a government website, or on the website of the "Myanmar Times", a privately-owned weekly.

A journalist working for a European news organisation who obtained a tourist visa was turned back on his arrival in Rangoon. Two Asian reporters were also denied entry. A CNN journalist was nonetheless able to visit areas hit by the cyclone on 6 May.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association also call on the government to explain the circumstances in which the security forces opened fire on inmates in Insein prison during the cyclone. Organisations based in Thailand say more than 30 prisoners were killed. There has been no word of the prisoners of conscience held in Insein, including journalist Win Tin.

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