Speaking during a panel discussion on “The Role of Media in Democratic Transition” on the weekend, Ms Isabella Kurkowski, Country Representative Myanmar of DW Akademie said that while some progress has been made on the media front in Myanmar, challenges remain.
Ms Kurkowski was the moderator for a panel discussion that included Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn, Executive Director and Chief Editor, Myanmar Times, Mrs. Dunja Mijatovic, International Expert on Media Freedom, DWA kademie and U Aung Hla Tun, Vice Chairman-1, News Media Council, Myanmar.
The following is Ms Kur kowski’s commentary released after the media session:
We have to express our gratitude to the Ministry of Information for making this kind of very first dialogue on transition possible. It is a very important conference on Myanmar's transition. This dialogue includes for the very first time different stakeholders and experts, who discussed in the different sessions Myanmar's political and economic transition, conflict resolution and reconciliation as well as media transition. The media was a crosscutting topic in all of the six sessions. So there is a demand to include media into the transitional process. I have checked yesterday and today the clicks on the Ministry of Information Live broadcasting. In some of the sessions we had up to 56.000 clicks. Imagine, and this is only the Ministry of Information Website. But we have so much more coverage with all of the local media and 38 foreign media. And this shows very clearly how broad the influence and distribution of information by media and the participation by the public in the dialogue can be.
So it is not only the people sitting here in this conference or following the website of Ministry of Information. It is shared and shared and shared - and we cannot count it. This shows exactly how government and media and public rely on each other and need the information. But also the fact that ten local media organisations are supporting and funding this important dialogue shows very clearly the desire of media for information and being a part of it due to its mandate of public interest.
Coming back to our session on the role of media in Myanmar's democratic transformation we had yesterday a very interesting session which due to time limits could not include all of the topics that we would have wanted to raise. This is why a part of it will be included in the winding up session. Media is critical for democracy and for peace. It is a medium and its part of transition process. In the context Myanmar, Media itself is in transition. There have been a lot of positive steps taken in Myanmar since the reforms began in the period of earlier government. In recent years, Myanmar has improved its ranking in media development in comparison to the previous period. Abolition of censorship, private media licencing, capacity building engagements, setting up of media associations like press council, journalist association are some of the notable changes.
Advancement in social media is also a significant development in Myanmar. Initiating community radio, reform of state owned broadcaster as public service broadcaster is also significant.
While there is progress on media front, the issues and challenges remain. Of particular significance is free environment for journalists to work and report. From the media industry point of view, commercial viability of private entities is an issue which needs to be addressed through policy support. On the content side, mechanisms of self-regulation are critical.
However the role of media in the current period ought to be constructing the collective national narrative of Myanmar. It has to come from different quarters and media’s role is to capture and inform. It is in this context government need to see Myanmar media as an ally.
Media role is also in addressing mindset, challenging the stereo-types and promotion of diversity.
Government's role is critical in building a harmonious relationship with media in terms of creating access, flow of information and accessibility to senior government policy makers and functionaries in order to share accurate and authentic information, being able to provide different angles of points of view as a decision-shaping process. Inaccessibility leads to various kinds of difficulties for journalists in their effective functioning (often leading to mistrust and misinformation).
Therefore the right to information and access to information for journalists is of utmost importance and not only for the journalists but also for the governments. We can consider for example different trainings in how to approach media in order to have a good information flow, for example by providing training to representatives of government and parliament in PR and organising press conferences.
Level playing field is necessary in terms of information sharing by government with respect to official as well as private media. That helps in developing a constructive Myanmar narrative by all stakeholders in an objective way.
Government as a part of transparency, credibility and good governance also needs to look at a comprehensive media policy strategy in terms of information sharing on national reconciliation efforts, peace process, religious affairs and community relations so that media can play a constructive role. To give the voice also to marginalised groups, for example ethnic media, is an important factor in order to reach out to all people. This is a channel that should be used by ethnic media, by the government and the public. It is more than relevant to create open media conditions in the field of ethnic media in order to bring the people on a national level nearer towards the peace process and getting them interested in it.
Role of government in promotion of ethnic media is also critical in Myanmar. In order to hear and amplify voices from the margins, ethnic media development should be given priority. In absence of such an approach, the narrative would be dominated by so called ‘mainstream’ media.
Trust building and understanding between the government and parliament and media is critical as each need the other. Media can address the mindset and as we heard today from State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her opening speech, the mindset should change. This is a basis to have a first condition for the peace process. This condition can be provided by the overall and ethnic media in Myanmar.
For media to grow organically there is a need to recognize sensitivities and cultural differences and view media as part of democratic transition process. It is an ally to government and people.
Building mutual trust and confidence are critical for healthy development of media as well as journalist education. The topic of education has been raised several times during different session as an important component of the transitional process in Myanmar. This refers also to journalism education which was not raised yesterday as topic but is of utmost importance for Myanmar. Also we have well-established institutions like the Myanmar Press Council where journalists are following the code of conduct of course with exceptions. We still have more than 1100 publications in Myanmar, five new TV channels, different radio stations and several already established private media as well as an increasing amount of online media. Having in mind a population of approximately 54 million inhabitants and a developing media transitioning country, this means that a lot of journalists or those who want to become journalists need quality education in journalism.
Yet we only have the National Management College with its journalism faculty and the Myanmar Journalism Institute providing a full-time and part-time diploma. In terms of capacity building this sector definitely has to be enhanced and increased comparing the amount of readers, users and audience comparing to the inhabitants in Myanmar. The enhanced journalism education can help in all of the transitional sectors to provide information to the public from the government and abroad. And there is a role for international agencies and communities in this; particularly in the area of capacity building. Media’s role in peace process is critical as it would be able to help defining political atmosphere, articulate strategy and behavior of stakeholders, influence the nature of the debates and give voices to each and every one. The plurality of voices is critical and media can play that role effectively.
There is a need to develop a media policy framework related to media legislation (we hear about the different challenges yesterday for the journalists related to defamation laws and access to information), capacity building (soon for example a new Broadcast Council once the Broadcast law is passed, will be established), journalism education and other media related topics in order to set the priorities of the government which is representing also the public. In this process it is more than important to include not only the government and the parliament but also the different civil society organisations, media organisations and marginalised groups. For the same and there is also a role for international agencies in promoting ethnic media in the country in order to secure peace and national reconciliation. This process can be accompanied by dialogues and workshops and conferences like this. By saying this I am convinced that further conferences and workshops will have a huge impact on the future transitional process of Myanmar accompanied by the media.