When lawmakers were caught napping

When sleeping lawmakers were captured on film in Myanmar, authorities responded by banning journalists Image copyright AP / Khin Maung Win
Image caption A member of Parliament in Myanmar was caught sleeping last month. More recent photos of sleeping politicians prompted authorities to respond by banning journalists from the chamber

When journalists in Myanmar posted pictures of sleeping lawmakers which then went viral, authorities responded by denying entry to parliament.

Overlooking the floor of the parliament Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw is the media observation room, a great vantage point for reporters to spot lawmakers going about the business of government - or not, as the case may be. This week, two MPs were spotted napping on the job, and journalists who captured the moment shared it online.

As a result, journalists were temporarily banned from the chamber and left to follow proceedings via a TV screen outside, prompting outrage on Facebook. "That is so ridiculous!" one commenter shouted. Others, though, seemed to be more sympathetic: "Reality is everyone on planet Earth is tired."

"It is our job to keep filming - whether they are asleep or having a fight," said Aung Thura of the Myanmar Journalists Network.Following the uproar, parliament announced that journalists and camera teams would be allowed back into the room from Monday.

The incident was just the latest in a series of embarrassing photos of Burma's lawmakers. Last month, an MP was photographed pressing a button on the voting machine of his absent neighbour, enraging other politicians. Other pictures have shown MPs busy on their tablets, blissfully ignoring the debates raging around them.

The temporary ban on journalists in parliament was just the latest point of contention between the press and government in Myanmar. Media reforms enacted after Myanmar's transition from a military regime have since been called into question. For instance in March, a journalist was detained and later released without charge for publishing a satirical post on Facebook. An inquest is currently underway after a freelance journalist was killed in military custody late last year. And 10 were jailed last year for "threatening state security" after publishing an incorrect story.

According to Burmese law, the media can be penalised for reportage which can "create panic" and undermine law and order. Last year, President Thein Sein said: "If there is any media that exploits media freedom and causes harm to national security rather than reporting for the sake of the country, effective legal action will be taken against that media." Myanmar was ranked 144th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Press Freedom Index released by Reporters without Borders.

Blog by Samiha Nettikkara

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