Welcoming the world’s media to Yangon
First, I must apologize for having not written sooner. But, things are very busy with Mizzima at the moment. Between establishing our new office, launching the country’s first digital daily newspaper, initiating our 2015 Election Coverage Project and co-hosting the 2015 International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress, I simply have not had the time to write earlier.
However, you will be happy to know that the IPI congress, which was held in Yangon the last weekend of March, was a huge success. To be honest, when we began the process of hosting this conference in Myanmar I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the country is very much at the beginning of transition and matters are progressing and regressing on an almost daily basis. But, with the contributions and support from local media groups, private businesses, the Ministry of Information, the IPI team and Mizzima volunteers, we did it.
Eight years ago, while Mizzima fought for freedom of expression and the rights of all Myanmar citizens as an exile media group, we were honored to be selected as the 2007 recipient of IPI’s Free Media Pioneer Award. It remains one of the proudest professional moments for both Mizzima and myself. And the hosting of this congress provided us an opportunity to display our gratitude to the years of support IPI has offered to Mizzima.
As exiles and as an exile media group, we struggled with both social and economic security. And it was at times hard to imagine how we could one day achieve our goals. But, throughout our struggle under military rule we could always count on support from the IPI community.
And the fact that we were able to convene the IPI World Congress in Myanmar for the first time ever is evidence that our hard work has paid off, and that Myanmar today is not what it was when Mizzima was an exile media group. However, though the context today is in many ways different than it once was, our pursuit and struggle for freedom of expression and democracy continues.
I was so pleased that delegates to the congress were able to witness the changes and continuing challenges in Myanmar with their own eyes and ears. I believe they now possess an even better understanding of the ongoing struggle of Myanmar journalists and private media groups who arefighting for their rightful place during this period of democratic transition.
I also think the media tour in which international journalists were able to see and learn about three Myanmar media groups – two former exile media groups and one local Myanmar media group – was one of the greatest activities during the 2015 congress. For Mizzima, we were able to show off our new office and better explain to our guests our plan for nationwide coverage of the 2015 general election.
But, in truth, there were so many activities and discussions of great benefit for both Myanmar and international journalists. For example, the workshop on election reporting held on the last day of the congress was extremely useful. And I believe this was especially true for reporters based in ethnic areas. For many of them, the November 2015 election will be their first experience of covering an electoral process.
And I was so delighted that the IPI World Congress was able to provide a space for Myanmar journalists to protest against the government’s recent crack down on media in our country. It provided an opportunity for all congress attendeesto show our solidarity and stand together with protesting Myanmar journalists, both inside and outside the congress venue.
Along these lines, I am sure you will welcome the news that delegates at the congress unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Myanmar’s government to recommit itself to a process of full democratization and respect for the fundamental human rights of free expression and media freedom.
However, I want to make sure you do not think the congress was solely focused on Myanmar. We also had an opportunity to hear and learn about some of the trends, advances and challenges to media freedom and development from countries around the world. From this, I took some comfort in knowing that the struggle we are facing in Myanmar for independent media is not one that we are fighting alone.
Throughout the congress, several recurring obstacles to media freedom came to the fore from various corners of the world. These challenges include the safety of journalists in conflict related reporting, the subject of hate speech in media and maintaining editorial independence in the face of growing political and economic interests. And as you are well aware, Myanmar’s media sector continues to struggle with all these challenges as well.
Of course, it was also encouraging to hear of the global trend in media business models turning to the exploitation of digital and online platforms. This only further cements my belief that we at Mizzima have made the correct strategic decisions in shifting to a multimedia and digital based platform and are a leading domestic company in this area.
Finally, before I bid you farewell, it would be remiss of me not to mention how appreciative I am for the understanding and active participation of Minister of Information U Ye Htut throughout the duration of the congress. His making time in his busy schedule to join us in our discussions was a great show of the importance that he and his ministry place in the ongoing reform process in our country. And his involvement and positive attitude throughout was even more commendable given the occasional embarrasing question or uncomfortable situation.
Ultimately, I hope that one day we will be able to reflect on the 2015 IPI World Congress and see the achievements of the gathering in bridging the gaps between stakeholders – including the government, private media and international community – in Myanmar’s reform process. And to my many IPI friends and colleagues, I look forward to our continued correspondence and our meeting again next year in Doha for the 2016 World Congress.
U Soe Myint
This is the third “Letter from Pazungtaung”. Future letters will follow roughly every two weeks. The letters are meant to reflect the personal observations and thoughts of Mizzima co-founder and Editor-in-Chief U Soe Myint.