YANGON (March 9, 2014) – In a speech given in conjunction with the East-West Center’s International Media Conference on “Challenges of a Free Press” this week in Yangon, Myanmar, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi today addressed press freedom issues in both emerging and developed democracies. (Watch the video of her talk.)
The democracy advocate, who spent years under political house arrest but is now an elected member of the national assembly, discussed how the media plays a key role in Myanmar’s political transition.
Noting that a long journey lies ahead for the country, she said: “We would like our media to help us in this quest to lay the foundations for a society, for a nation, which is not just for us, today, but for generations to come.”
Without a free press to check those who are in power, she said, “we will not be able to defend the rights and freedoms of the people. But at the same time, this press has to be aware not just of its great power and influence, but of the great responsibility that it bears for the building of a new nation that is centered on the will of the people.”
She cautioned that the press has an inherent obligation to its citizens and should not shirk its duties to the public. “Greater freedom demands greater responsibility,” she said. “It is one of my greatest concerns that people not look upon democracy as a system that gives unlimited rights to them but does not demand equal responsibility back.”
Suu Kyi said that increased levels of training and educational support can bolster the standard of a free press in any country, and that she hoped similar methods would come to fruition in Myanmar.
“If people ask me do we have absolute freedom of media in this country, I would say ‘no,’” she said, “for the simple reason that we do not have as yet the kind the kind of laws that would truly defend and promote a free press. But at the same time I would also say that we do not have enough media responsibility either.”
She said this is because for decades in Myanmar, “journalists were not able to train themselves to increase their capacity, so we have a group of young journalists today who are very enthusiastic, very dedicated, but without sufficient training. We need to train the younger members of our media so that they may be able to take on the tremendous responsibility that lies on their shoulders.
Asked about the highly sensitive issue of increasing violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, Suu Kyi replied that “when you talk about violence, you have to talk about the rule of law. If we want to resolve problems that are created through acts of violence, we have to make sure that the necessary actions are taken to make sure these acts of violence do not take place, and that’s rule of law.”
Suu Kyi also used the speech to announce the launch of her new Suu Foundation, dedicated to improving basic living conditions for many in Myanmar after long years of isolation. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush, who are both co-chairs of the foundation, sent video messages for the event encouraging support for the effort.
Actress Michelle Yeoh, who portrayed Suu Kyi in the film “The Lady” and serves on the foundation’s board of directors, also spoke at the luncheon event, saying, “the focus of the Suu Foundation will be on the simplest, but most fundamental things: health care and education.”