BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Banned reporters

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:10 UK time, Wednesday, 7 May 2008

It's the iron law of newsgathering - stories happen in the least convenient places. After two months of dodging the authorities first in China and then in Zimbabwe, we're at it again - this time in Burma. The country is one of the last "closed" nations on earth. But unlike Zimbabwe, it's not just the BBC that's banned from Burma - all foreign journalists are unwelcome there.

Residents clean up in a damaged Rangoon suburb on 4 May 2008Reporting natural disasters are difficult at any time. Our teams endure the same conditions as the people affected - operating without electricity and clean water, sometimes without shelter. Most of the time, we're able to take our own supplies into the affected area - but in Burma, our team has had to pose as tourists. So reporting the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is even more difficult than usual. Particularly when the reporter is deported on arrival.

BBC reporters are recognised all the time - most of the time, they enjoy it. Our Asia correspondent Andrew Harding arrived in Rangoon just hours after the cyclone hit on Monday morning. But after passing through immigration, an eagle-eyed policeman spotted our intrepid reporter in the baggage hall. Andrew was put on the next plane to Bangkok. Despite everything else going on in Burma, Andrew's deportation was considered sufficiently news-worthy to make the evening news in Rangoon last night.

So it is, that Paul Danahar - more used to being behind the camera as our Asia-Pacific bureau chief rather in front of the microphone - finds himself as the only British broadcaster inside the country. Paul is normally based in Beijing and has spent the past six weeks leading our coverage of the protests in Tibet, and the aftermath. During the Iraq War, he ran the operation in Baghdad, braving the coalition air strikes and the wrath of Saddam's regime. As South Asia bureau chief, he led the BBC's response to the Bam Earthquake in Iran, the Asian Tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake. So when it comes to natural disasters, he's got form. Leading the Today Programme and the BBC News at Ten - well that's a different matter!

The UN says it's still waiting for visas for its aid workers. We hope the regime may relax its restriction on western journalists. The aid agencies argue they need the coverage to generate donations to fund their relief efforts. At its best it becomes a virtuous circle. Without it, the danger is that hundreds, maybe thousands of those fortunate to survive may not do so.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have a question...why is it so that BBC has only problem of blacklisted in majority of world places, name from China to Myanmar to Zimbabwe.
    I think its time for introspection that is BBC is too much biassed and runs with racial feelings that so many origins do treat it so.
    I write many times articles on blogs but observed the editorial section just block it, this itself is sign that there is an no entry for criticism in BBC reporting.

  • Comment number 2.

    I too hope more journalists get into Burma. It's a vicious cycle with nobody inside, it doesn't get reported, the Junta continues without any spotlight.

    We don't even have the 'Zimbabwe Solution' of saying 'We're banned from Zimbabwe, so we're reporting from South Africa' (as if that was a substitute).

    Somehow, someway, Burma needs a continuous light upon it. If the cyclone can help start that, then it might have some benefit.

    I think what'll happen though is the usual - no pictures, no story, and it'll fade from our screens again.

    For me, Aung Sang Suu Chi is someone who has higher stature than people like Nelson Mandela - though very few have even heard of her.

  • Comment number 3.


    Do you think it is a sensible thing to name the reporter in Burma, when the 10 o clock news did not name him? What happened in the editorial meeting to change this?

  • Comment number 4.

    i cant believe you can look at whats just happened in burma and use the words 'least convenient'.

    isnt it more "inconvenient" that over 22,000 people have died?

    instead of wishing that journalists are allowed in the country how about wishing no more people die? surely thats the humane thing to do.

    however you decide to judge a country on its journalists rules isnt really of any of your concern, as its not your or anybody elses choice to make.

  • Comment number 5.

    I have been a reporter from the conflict zones in Sri Lanka for over 10 years. I am now resident in London and I could easily pass off as Burmese.
    Why not try and send me there?

    I have been known to get hard- to-get stories. if anyone is willing I'll post my credentials.

    Pearl Thevanayagam

  • Comment number 6.

    Jeez, ppl, lighten up. I think BBC does a fine job in journalism and they are just trying to let the world know what's happening over there. I have family over there and I want to know what's going on. But the paranoid rules imposed by the junta is making it very difficult to get any information. It doesn't help that they haven't been able to restore basic infrastructure such as electricity and phone lines. Let the journalists do their jobs. I will decide what is biased and what is real reporting.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's not just Burma that closes it's door on all foreign journalist. China has done the same with Tibet. They don't want the world to see the atrocities that they are committing. They even kicked out their own journalist from Hong Kong.

  • Comment number 8.

    Why does the BBC use the colonial name for Myanmar (Burma) when it does not use the colonial name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon) or Mumbai (Bombay)? The Burmese are only one part of many peoples who live in Myanmar.

  • Comment number 9.

    R J Molesworth - here's a BBC article from last year explaining the use of Burma/Myanmar:

    Essentially, the regime that changed the name to Myanmar is one that is not recognized as a legitimate government, and cannot therefore make legitimate decisions on the name of the country. Burma is preferred by the remaining elements of the democratic movement in the country.

  • Comment number 10.

    As the deathtoll rose, I wondered how the media would link the natural disaster to the regime.Now the reports of "monks helping out", while the army supposedly does nothing: of aid workers denied visas and U.S. officials demandinng entry to the country, in the name of humanitarian aid. If we link aid to undermining the regime, it will backfire and like the Iraq war discredit the west's motives for humanitarian intervention.
    Lets not go there and concentrate on the victims instead.

  • Comment number 11.

    Can you not embed journalists with our arms dealers when they head out to these dangerous places

  • Comment number 12.

    Yesterday I was listening to Five Live at 7 PM, and I expected the major incident in London to be the top story, but instead, the top story was the natural disaster in Burma. Therefore I don't support the BBC.

    How much are licence payers paying for the BBC to send journalists into Burma disguised as tourists? Did millions of licence payers requested that journalists be sent disguised as viewers into Burma? Did they?

    I don't believe the majority of licence payers wake up every day wondering what's going on in Burma. What's happening closer to home is more important to licence payers, so why not tell us about that instead?

  • Comment number 13.

    Good on ya BBC you are doing a great Job. In reporting the situation in Burma. I seem to get more info from the BBC than an other outfit.

    Keep up the good work

  • Comment number 14.

    Re: Zimbabwe... other organisations claim to be "banned" but they had reporters in Zimbabwe, undertaking covert (and pretty overt) filming. Obviously there are security issues, not least for those filmed (e.g. police raid on MDC HQ to remove election papers seen on TV) but why did the BBC apparently not try to get in despite the ban?

  • Comment number 15.

    From a general perspective simply because there may be no reporting restrictions on journalists in some world hotspot locations doesn't mean to say that what they freely report isn't a load of garbage!

  • Comment number 16.

    Authoritarian regimes are not concerned about the welfare of people. They take care to ensure that they are not exposed. It is a shame that the developed countries refuse to intervene to end the dictators in Burma. India and China should exert pressure on Burma rulers to free the country from under the yoke of dictatorsip

  • Comment number 17.

    Why is the BBC talking about a flood in Burma when the rest of us have been forced to call it Myanmar for years?

  • Comment number 18.

    Max (post 3) asks why we are naming Paul when the BBC News at 10 on Tuesday night did not. I'm not sure it's sensible to go into the reasoning behind our decision. Safe to say that the circumstances changed to alter our assessment of the risk. It's not just on the blog, but across all our output. It's important that our audiences can trust our reporting - they're more likely to do so if they can identify the reporter. We need to balance that with the risk to the individual. On Tuesday night, the balance was against, on Wednesday morning, after circumstances changed, the balance is in favour. It's a fine call.

  • Comment number 19.

    wns_195 wrote: "I don't believe the majority of licence payers wake up every day wondering what's going on in Burma. What's happening closer to home is more important to licence payers, so why not tell us about that instead?"

    Dear WNS, while you were in your warm, solid, brick home having a shower in clean water, listening to the radio and deciding which of the vast selections of food to consume for breakfast did the 200,000 rotting bodies, the 1 million homeless and the 10,000s of dying Burmese interupt your train of thought?

    My sincere apologies ...nuaghty Burma! We cannot apologise enough and will withold aid to teach them a lesson!!

    Get some perspective!

  • Comment number 20.

    I guess the reason your reporters were banned from the country is because of the way how your company conduct your "business". The report has been drafted and approved by the people in your office before they arrive. All the report do on the ground is to add-in some vedio so it looks real. Whatever is happening there is actually irrelavent.

    It happens not only in the report. Look at the interview BBC had with the UN food program officer. The poor UN guy was trying to explain UN doesn't want to involve in any political dispute at this moment. All UN wants is get the aid as quick and as much as possible. BBC presenter tried 3~4 time to lead the conversation to criticize on the military government. Will criticizing the goverment help to save more lifies at this particular? Do you even care?

    Look at what happened in Tibet, your report has all the pictures and only the pictures favouring your political review were showed on air. But there were so few, so some "creative" ways were invented. In a proper English, it is called "lie". BTW, the BBC reported were never banned in China. The suggestion was the situation in Tibet was not stable so it was not recommended to travel to Tibet by that time. Your reporter lied again. In his program, he hired a LC and travel inside Tibet which I belive everybody who decide to ignore the message can do. He stopped outside a village and claim he was not able to travel further. Then there is a long balabala on Chinese goverment human right records. Suddenly I realized I can do the same thing and claim I am reporting from a Nazi concentration camp in WW II, I can show a wire netting used by the local farmer.

    I was very surprised the Chinese goverment was so tolerant and invited BBC reporter to Everest base camp while they were "banned".

    I blieve BBC reports will not have problem get into the country if they can concentrative on reporting itself instead of chatter on politics just for once.

  • Comment number 21.

    I think that news needs to come in from the country well done BBC. We are losing trust in media and what it says to the world. To truly understand what is happening in Burma we need this type of journalism people who put themselves at risk in order to represent the truth.
    You may find that BBC are not welcome in Burma/Zimbabwe etc is due to the fear of the impact of a worldwide respected news broadcaster. if you were comitting illegal crimes against your people let me ask you who you would be opening the doors to? BBC would not be on your list!

  • Comment number 22.

    Jon Williams:
    I am very sad that the media is using the party; That will get the explusion by the government in a country that does not want to have its "dirty laundry" air out in the world media waves...

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm a freelance journalist working in Africa at the moment and I can say I admire the perserverance of British journalists to continue their reporting in Zimbabwe. I've had numerous colleagues beaten up and threatened, particularly over the last year. Media blackouts and bannings - be they in Zimbabwe, Burma or Gaza are for me a clear indication of foul play.

    Keep up the good work BBC and please continue your efforts for accurate reporting in Zim.. the world definitely needs to know what's going on there and how ineffective the regional powers have been in managing the crisis there.

    Olga ( African news blog)

  • Comment number 24.

    sp. perseverance I beg your pardon!

  • Comment number 25.

    please don't make me laugh. I see that the vulture and economic parasite pearl thevanayagam is at it again. trying to angle for a job in the BBC now. this type of scum should not be given the time of day. firstly she calls her self a journalist in exile. She ran out of sri lanka for greener pastures. The extent of her writitng is to write on milk pouring out of the mouths of statues of gods in Colombo. she never went to any conflict zone. the only conflict she created was her tattle tale mouth that created conflict in the office she worked in in Colombo. TYou BBC people are so gullible


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.