Challenging hate speech head-on in Myanmar

02 December 2015
Challenging hate speech head-on in Myanmar
Training session for media monitors in Yangon. (Photo: Alan Davis)

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has begun training monitors in Myanmar in readiness for the launch of a 12-month anti-hate speech project to promote greater tolerance of ethnic, religious and marginalised groups through information, education and public debate, according to a report on the IWPR website on 1 December.
The first short training course in the former capital Yangon was attended by 19 journalists from that city and from Mandalay. It was led by IWPR’s Asia Director Alan Davis and by the organisation’s new programme manager and editor, both of them former journalists with leading Myanmar dailies.
“Myanmar’s political transition in recent years has been accompanied by a rise in exclusive nationalism. Leading Buddhist monks from the Ma Ba Tha movement claim to speak for the Bamar majority and engage in anti-Muslim narratives targeting the Rohingya minority. To counter this, IWPR’s programming will encourage peaceful public engagement and seek to build a consensus that hate speech, left unchecked, is bad for the country’s future,” the report said.
“The essential challenge facing Myanmar is how to protect and defend things without going on the offensive and attacking and inciting violence against others,” Davis said. “Consequently, our project is all about our belief that the more information and education and debate is encouraged and shared respectfully, the more we can all reduce the influence and impact of hate speech.”
As part of IWPR’s programme, the 19 journalists selected will monitor media outlets and engage with those who, whether accidentally or deliberately, promote misinformation and incite fear or hatred of particular groups in Myanmar. They will produce a bulletin of their findings every two weeks, and they hope to inspire a growing band of volunteers to spend an hour online speaking up in defence of free expression and debate.
The media monitor bulletin will be published in both Myanmar and English every two weeks and will include a series of short opinion and commentary pieces commissioned from a variety of sources across the political, ethnic and religious spectrum.