Kyaw Hsan, the union minister of information and culture, gave Mizzima an exclusive interview in the production office of Myanmar Radio and Television in Rangoon on March 18, 2012, marking the inauguration of Mizzima’s return to Burma as a working media organization. Mizzima now operates offices in Burma, New Delhi and Chiang Mai.
Question: How do see the role of this media conference?
Answer: Today people want democracy and a market economy. They aspire for it, and for the implementation of such a system, the people drafted a Constitution and adopted it. For that reason, our media has a supportive role in accord with the Constitution to successfully implement democracy and a market economy and it needs to be reformed according to the Constitution. While we are considering such reforms, we have to learn from our past history, the country's contexts and realities. We have studied media openness, media freedom, its independence, ethics and rules, and regulations on media from Asean and neighboring countries. We are now drafting a media law in order to allow our media to stand as a qualified fourth foundation of our state-building. We organized this conference to discuss such matters with experts including with UNESCO, intellectuals from overseas and local professionals.
Q: The government has been leading a reform program. The information ministry has been doing similar reform measures. How will the ministry proceed with state-owned media reform?
“We are now drafting a media law in order to develop our media as a qualified fourth foundation in our state-building. We are conducting a conference to discuss such matters with experts, including UNESCO, intellectuals from overseas and local professionals.”
A: I have tried to develop the quality and forms of state-owned media to survive indefinitely. In addition, I will inform the public about the government's policies, what the government has done for the benefit of the people, and how they can cooperate with the government in state-building efforts.
On the other hand, I will continue to report to the authorities about the attitudes of the people and what the people actually want. Moreover, I have been trying to encourage the private media to practice responsibility and proper judgment while they enjoy media freedom. I will also encourage the idea of freedom, responsibility, and proper judgment for the state media. I will continue to strive on the side of state media to make constructive criticism while practicing freedom, responsibility and proper judgment.
Q: Are there plans to allow the private sector to publish daily newspapers?
A: We have been drafting a new media law. The media bill could be submitted to the Hluttaw (Parliament) this year and it could be approved. After approval of the new media law, any publications, including daily newspapers, books and journals could be published freely according to the law.
Q: Will foreign media be allowed to freely cover the April by-election?
A: In regards to the April 1 by-elections, the president said earlier the voting would be more transparent than in the 2010 elections. We have plans to allow foreign media to cover the by-election news.
Q: When Burma takes the Asean chairmanship in 2014, how will you organize the media?
A: Our country will take the Asean chairmanship in 2014, and prior to this, it will host the SEA Games in 2013. We have been preparing measures to handle the media sector. For media, it is necessary to use the Internet, phones and fax, and the Communication, Post and Telegraph Ministry has taken responsibility for these preparations.
“I will continue to strive from the side of state media to make constructive criticism while practicing alongside freedom, responsibility and proper judgment.”
Our information ministry is organizing our staff in order to cope with visiting media crews. Similarly, a media center will be established for taping, recording and producing news, and to send the news back to the relevant countries. While preparing for these measures, we have learned from others' experiences. We have also sent out study teams to gather information. The 2013 SEA Games will be test of our efforts. Based on our experiences in the 2013 sport festival, we will develop the final plan for 2014 event. In 2014, I believe we can provide services to international media of the same quality as other Asean countries.
Q: How can the international media help in developing Burma’s media sector?
A: Today, our country has been undergoing a reform; not only in the information sector, but also in a number of other sectors. While we are doing this, I observe three factors in every sector, what you may call requirements or challenges. First, our citizens who are involving in every sector of reform need capacity building. In other words, it is required to promote human resources. Second, the technology relating to such reforms sector should be advanced. Third, we need financial support, material and equipment, which are basic requirements for successful implementation of such reforms. These are the challenges we are facing not only in the media sector, but also in other sectors.
“In regards to the by-election, we will allow foreign media to monitor it.”
While we are doing media reform, international agencies should assist with capacity building programs for our local media staff, and our government officials will cooperate with such efforts. We will also seek advanced media technology through this cooperation. We will also cooperate with international agencies to acquire financial support and equipment for this sector. As you know, Soe Myint, if we open doors, it is a natural that a fresh breeze could come into the house, but trash and filthy flies could also come in. And when we are cooperating with international partners, we will check whether such programs are counter to our national interest or not, and violating our national sovereignty or not. We will also examine their true intentions, whether they are working with good will or are they strings attached.
Q: Many people show interest in Burma's reforms. Some call it the "Myanmar spring," but others are more skeptical. When will grassroots people start to enjoy the fruits of the reform measures?
A: Since the government has started its reforms, we have intended for benefits to go to the grassroots people, rather than to the elite who initiated the reform. We have started the reforms with such a policy. For instance, we have started a taxation system reform and the benefits will go to the grassroots people. The government will collect revenue from a new tax system this year, and we will distribute this revenue for the education, health and social programs of the people at the bottom. The effects of some reform measures will go straightaway to the grassroots level, but for effects of other reform measures, it will take time to see the effects. Nevertheless, we will try our best to allow the grassroots people to see the benefit for the reforms, even if it may take time.
Q: Your old colleagues have said you were hard working and serious about your work in the Tatmadaw. At this moment, you are managing two ministries at a critical time for the government. What is your daily job like?
“While we are doing media reforms, international agencies should assist with capacity building programs with our local media staff and our government officials, and we will cooperate with such efforts. We will also seek advanced media technology through this cooperation.”
A: I will answer generally, rather than personally. Since my childhood until today, I have worked to the best of my abilities in the jobs assigned to me. I also tried to convince my colleagues to be proud while fulfilling your duties. It is my motto. In addition, do your work with good intention (cetana) and your good deed will pay you back. I always encourage them with these two personal mottos. I follow the same rules. I use all my time to fulfill my role in my two ministries.
Similarly, the cultural ministry has been undergoing reform measures and the cultural sector must cope with advanced changes in modern era.
But the natures of my responsibilities are quite different. As you aware, my responsibility in the information ministry must be accomplished within a given time frame. Although I share my time quite fairly, I have to give more time to the information ministry. And for my daily schedule, I wake up in six in the morning, spend the whole day working, and I go to bed around 11 or 12 at night.
Q: How do you see international countries in terms of their response to the government’s reforms, and in regards to the sanctions?
“The effects of some reform measures will go straightaway to the grassroots level, but for some other reform measures, it will take time to see the affects.”
A: As you said earlier, since our reforms have been quite swift and remarkable, it is acknowledged by the world community as "Burma’s spring" or the "Myanmar Spring." The western countries, including the U.S., have imposed sanctions against us, because of accusations of a lack of democracy and human rights. Today, we are witnessing real momentum for democratic changes, for promoting human rights and for developing the country. For that reason, I believe they should change their positions immediately. But the decision is theirs, whether to change their policies or not.
Q: Some peoples are concerned that reforms in Burma could be reversible. Does the commander-in-chief of the armed forces fully support the reform?
In regards to today’s reforms, the idea of commander in chief is similar to the government.
A: We are also military men. In the mind of Tatmadaw men, we work only for the benefit of the country and the citizens. We work for the "three causes of the nation." If I have to discuss the real life of a military man, we come into the Tatmadaw with various objectives and various reasons. However, if we join the Tatmadaw, whether being an infantryman or an officer, the army has trained and promoted us to conform to its discipline. In all ranks, a solider must pass through various training levels, a refresher course, a corporal course, a sergeant course, etc. The officers do the same, we have passed through the cadet academy, platoon commander training, company commander training, battalion commander training, finally the National Defense College (NDC). We have undergone much training. The training instills our beliefs, attitudes, and goals. Finally, all military have in their mind the benefit of the country and the citizens. Our goal is to work for the "three causes of the nation." We could even give our lives for the country. For that reason, in regard to today’s reform, the idea of commander in chief is similar to the government.
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