“A Healthy Media is Key to Our Country's Development”
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INTERVIEW

“A Healthy Media is Key to Our Country's Development”


By THE IRRAWADDY Friday, September 16, 2011


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Last week, in response to a proposal from Lower House MP Thein Nyunt for a new law to guarantee media freedom, Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan warned that such a law could be more trouble than it was worth. Citing the ancient Buddhist fable of Saddan, the elephant king whose queen was bitten by red ants attracted by flowers that he had given her, he suggested that the “gift” of a free media could bring more disadvantages to the country than advantages.

Kyaw Hsan's remarks, made at a time when Burma's military-dominated government is trying to encourage exiles to return to the country to play a role in its supposed transition to democracy, have renewed doubts about the seriousness of recent “reforms.” As one of those in the country's exiled media community who have been invited to go back, Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw spoke to senior reporter Aye Chan Myate about the role of the media in restoring democracy in Burma, cooperation between domestic and exiled media agencies, and whether The Irrawaddy has any plans to return to Burma and base itself there.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of The Irrawaddy and recipient of the 2010 Prince Claus Award for his active role in the fight for freedom of information and democracy.
Question: What do you think of Kyaw Hsan's speech in Parliament last week?

Answer: Instead of talking about an elephant king, he should have said something about King Mindon, the penultimate monarch of Burma. In 1875, the Yadanabon Naypyidaw newspaper was established with his blessings. He also introduced Burma's first ever press law. In that 17-article law, he famously declared: “If I do wrong, write about me. If the queens do wrong, write about them. If my sons and my daughters do wrong, write about them. If the judges and mayors do wrong, write about them. No one shall take action against the journals for writing the truth. They shall go in and out of the palace freely.” It was a very modern, thoughtful law for that time, and it was Burma’s first indigenous press freedom law.

Q: What do you think of the current media situation inside Burma and the role of the domestic press?

A: I think the government censorship board should no longer exist. We can proudly say that in the 1950s and 60s, our country had the freest press in Southeast Asia. Back then, journalists could raise really critical questions at press conferences organized by the prime minister and other ministers. They could also report about those conferences. However, this changed under the late dictator Gen Ne Win, and became worse under the military regime that succeeded him. Those who revealed the truth were thrown in jail, where many still languish. I think the government must release them and ensure that Burma enjoys complete freedom of the press.   

Even President Thein Sein has spoken of the importance of the fourth pillar, the media. Our country needs freedom of the press in order to achieve democracy. The media is the eyes and ears of a country. Let us do our work freely!

Q: What can be done to help domestic and exiled media groups cooperate?

A: I think they already cooperate in many ways. In recent years, the gap between them has become narrower, as mistrust has decreased and understanding increased. People living inside the country now understand more about the role of exiles, and we exiles have become more aware of their role. We are like two sides of the same coin. We have to report and reveal what they cannot, so we have become partners.

On the other hand, some journalists inside Burma still toe the government line. But there are many who respect the truth and believe in an independent media, and they need all the assistance they can get, from both inside and outside.

Overall, the situation of the domestic media is encouraging, despite the government's continuing restrictions. Recently, however, we have heard that people in Burma can now access our Irrawaddy website without having to use a proxy server.



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U Nu Wrote:
21/09/2011
Tom Tun,

The Sangha's boycott in 2007 was a powerful non-violent challenge to military authority performed on behalf of the civilian population.


Tom Tun Wrote:
21/09/2011
U Nu,

If soldiers should stay in their barracks, religious personals should stay where they belong. Pursuit of happiness is individual choice, it can't be mixed up with society affairs. I watched one of the Shawn Connery movie before and he said that, "All victims are equal and none is more equal than the other". I definitely see that what he means. We are all victims of Burmese regime. No one is suffer more than other. We have to help each other. No one is at the bottom of the pile of the bone, but every one is in the pile of the bone. Search for the common cause or you will lose it.

Venus Wrote:
21/09/2011
Where is media education inside our country? Healthy educations including healthy and ethical journalism is badly needed first to open minds to develop our country.

U Nu Wrote:
20/09/2011
“The People’s Sangha”

If a mountain of our people’s bones
Can free Burma from the grip of dictatorship
The bones of our abbots and monks will be lying at the bottom of the pile

Terry Evans Wrote:
20/09/2011
The key to change in Burma is to get the generals out of politics and the soldiers back in their barracks.

Tom Tun Wrote:
19/09/2011
Ko Aung Zaw,

I like to share my own opinion and what changes that will make me to go home and help Burma. First and foremost, when society is more important than the government and the power of the government, I think it will be time for the exiles to go back home. For now, I don't see real changes, for example Kyaw Hsan quotes of Elephant King Saddan and journalism. There are too many monastery graduate monks killer are still in power and there is no particular law to protect freedom of speech. It is more benefit to the Burmese society by working outside of Burma. Hopefully changes will come soon.

Myint Aung Wrote:
19/09/2011
Aung Zaw, you're my hero. You should go back to Burma right now, you can teach everyone how to rob donors and buy a big house and win awards for being a big phoney.

U K Win Wrote:
19/09/2011
"Let me write the laws of the land and I do not care who makes its laws." Thomas Jefferson.

kerry Wrote:
17/09/2011
Well done Aung Zaw and all the people who write with regular courage, ethics, support and such deep intelligence and determination.

Your fellow media in democratic neighbouring need to take note of your courage, look carefully at themselves, and assist further- NOW. This support is horribly long overdue.

The fact that a whole nation can be held to ransom like this for so long (and suffer so much at the hands of people with no mandate) is archaic beyond belief. Well done for being voices of truth and dissent. Well done for continuing your essential work regardless of the insanity you face, and to all those in the field, inside and out.

Well done. Well done.

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