YANGON (March 12, 2014) – With a high-ranking Information Ministry official joining them, a panel of local journalists said today at the final session of the East-West Center’ International Media Conference in Yangon that they are that they are cautiously hopeful about the future of media in Myanmar, although challenges remain. (Watch video of the panel.)
U Ye Htut, Deputy Minister of Information and presidential spokesman, who stayed to attend the entire conference after delivering a keynote speech on the first day, also joined the panel and said that media in Myanmar must focus on editorial independence in an environment where he said many media owners attempt to manipulate the reporting. “We want the diversity of ownership, and we want the diversity of information in our country,” he said.
With many news organizations concentrated in larger cities, like Yangon and Mandalay, the media must not forget to cover news at the state level, he said. One challenge he sees for the media is changing the mindsets of the people in regars to the difference between state-owned and public service media.
Chit Win Maung, adviser to MRTV4 Newsroom and member of the Myanmar Press Council, spoke about the changes in the media landscape. “Now we have the freedom of the press, but there are still challenges,” Chit Win Maung said.
The first significant change Myanmar journalists experienced was the abolishment of official pre-publication censorship, he said. Following that, privately owned daily newspapers were allowed to publish for the first time in decades, another adjustment for local journalists.
Ye Naing Moe, director of Yangon Journalism School, said while he could not predict the future, he is hoping for the best. “It is quite as unpredictable as Korean soap operas,” Ye Naing Moe said. “Everyone expects a happy ending, so we expect a happy ending, too.”
The government and the media must complete two tasks to reach such an outcome, he said. The current and future governments should encourage ministries to cooperate with journalists, respecting the public’s right to information, he said. Journalists should also promote investigative reporting, because many people suffered under the previous government’s policies, Ye Naing Moe said.
Swe Win, a freelance journalist in Yangon, agreed with U Ye Htut that the main issue for Myanmar media today is the editorial influence of the media business owners. Another concern he raised was the social insensitivity of current journalists, and their failure to cover key issues of ethnic violence and discrimination, especially concerning the minority Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine state.
“We should have no doubt about the newsworthiness of human rights violations,” Swe Win said. The obstacles in front of Myanmar journalists are ones “we impose upon ourselves, our ignorance of our duties as journalists,” he said.
Reporting by Cara McClain & photos by Allison Wrabel, Missouri School of Journalism