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The first ever World Press Freedom Day celebrated in Myanmar and Lao PDR

09.05.2012

Myanmar and Lao PDR recently celebrated their first ever World Press Freedom Day in 20 years since the UN designated the Day in 1992.

Myanmar marked the Day on 3 May 2012 highlighting the growing role of media in Myanmar and its importance in the country’s transition to democracy while Lao PDR debated on the role of media as the voice of people to reflect the rising international status of Lao and the country’s remarkable economic growth.

Myanmar’s Deputy Minister U Soe Win stressed on journalists’ right to present a diversity of views and stances based on national interest on the World Press Freedom Day Ceremony, the first Myanmar has ever observed.

“The national interest doesn't mean protecting the government in office. The emergence of genuine democracy, the correct use of democracy according to its essence, national reconsolidation and restoration of ethnic unity, which in fact are crucial factors of Myanmar, are our common ground or in other words the national interest,” the Deputy Minister gave a keynote address on behalf of Union Minister for Information U Kyaw Hsan.

Jointly organised by UNESCO and Ministry of Information, over 150 representatives from the government, Embassies, United Nations and Myanmar’s journalism community gathered in Yangon in Myanmar last week to mark World Press Freedom Day for the first time.

Since April 2011, Myanmar government has embarked on series of key initiatives in establishing democratic systems and institutions. UNESCO’s experts are providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Information in drafting media laws. Also UNESCO organized an international conference on media development in March 2012.


“The national interest doesn't mean protecting the government in office. The emergence of genuine democracy, the correct use of democracy according to its essence, national reconsolidation and restoration of ethnic unity, which in fact are crucial factors of Myanmar, are our common ground or in other words the national interest.”

The Ministry of Information has been drafting a print media law outlined in the Constitution and based on the recommendations received from Attorney-General's Office, UNESCO experts, and inputs from the conference on media development its second draft has been submitted to the Attorney General's Office and soon will be presented for approval through formal procedures. In the meantime, a broadcast media law has been in a drafting process in cooperation with international organizations including experts from UNESCO.

Deputy Minister U Soe Win said that that the law would also encompass online media to ensure the rights for the online journalists.

The annual observance of World Press Freedom Day on every 3rd May is to serve as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

“Everyone loves freedom and likewise the writers and journalists too love the freedom of the press and the freedom to express their thoughts,” said Letwinntha Saw Chit, Patron of the Myanmar Writers Association Organizing Committee.

“As the Republic of the Union of Myanmar is emerging as a country with full democracy, the situation of our media is not the same as before and is now facing a new environment that they have never faced before. The publishing field is now 75 per cent open to do it with freedom and before long, all efforts are being done to have a 100 per cent freedom in publishing,” he said.

A joint message from UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director General Ms Irina Bokova was read by Professor Dr Lwin Lwin Soe, Secretary-General of the Myanmar National Commission for UNESCO.

“Media freedom entails the freedom to hold opinions and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This freedom is essential for healthy and vibrant societies.

“Powerful new voices are rising – especially from young people – where they were silent before. This is why this year’s World Press Freedom Day is centred on the theme of New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies.”

The message also said that online journalists, including bloggers, must receive the same protection as traditional media workers.

“The Parliament is working to make sure all the citizens are able to enjoy the rights including the freedom of expression vested by the Constitution. Press freedom could bring transparency and accountability to Myanmar society, thereby contributes to national unity and national reconsolidation,” Chairman of Parliamentary Sports, Culture and Public Relations Development Committee Thura U Aye Myint said in his speech.


“Lao media is closely monitored by the State. Low wages for journalists do not encourage and motivate journalists to excel in their profession.”

For the first time ever, Lao PDR celebrated World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2012 with a panel discussion on “The Media Landscape in Lao PDR”, organized by UNESCO Bangkok office with support of the UN Communications Group in Lao PDR.

More than 50 media managers and journalists from Lao governmental and independent print, radio and broadcast media, communications specialists from International Organizations and NGOs, and professors and students from the Lao National University journalism course participated at the event.

“The timing of this meeting is of particular significance. This year Lao will be under the international spotlight. The country will host the Asia Europe Meeting and People’s Forum later in the year. These important events, to be held in Vientiane, reflect the rising international status of Lao and the remarkable economic growth that the country has experienced over the past 10-years,” said Minh Pham, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Lao PDR, welcoming participants to this first ever World Press Freedom Day celebration in the country.

“Such developments are critical for the future of the country. But they must also be enriched and consolidated by openness for debate, exchange of views and opinions. The role of the media, as the voice of the people, is critical in achieving this,” said Mr Pham.

Etienne Clement, Deputy Director of UNESCO Bangkok, in his opening remarks, said: “World Press Freedom Day reminds us that in many countries around the world, the press is not free; publications are censored, fined and suspended, journalists, editors and publishers attacked, detained and even murdered.”

Mr. Clement also read the joint message from UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director General Ms Irina Bokova: “It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of press freedom and to remind governments of their commitment to press freedom. Also, media professionals worldwide reflect on that day about issues of professional ethics and codes of conducts for journalists.”


“Journalism in Lao lacks a sound education base. The only media education in the country, a Bachelor course at the Lao National University, is run by literature teachers and not by journalists.”

A presentation ‘UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators’ as an internationally accepted framework to measure status and development of media by Dieter Schlenker of UNESCO Bangkok was followed by an overview on the current Thai media landscape comparing to that of Lao PDR by Pradit Ruangdit from Thai Journalist Association.

Vannaphone Sitthirath, media consultant in Lao PDR, then outlined main features of the present Lao media landscape. While more media diversity has evolved in past years with the emergence of private radio and TV channels and the introduction of community radio stations, the media “are not yet the voice of the people but the voice of the government and still lack in-depth investigation,” she said.

“Lao media is closely monitored by the State. Low wages for journalists do not encourage and motivate journalists to excel in their profession, who also apply a high level of self-censorship.

“While many people outside urban Vientiane have no access to traditional media, “Internet becomes a new channel for Lao young media providers,” said Ms Sitthirath.

Ms Sitthirath summarized that: “In Lao, media are more seen as public relations or business news, and often the question comes up if it is news or ads.

“Journalism in Lao lacks a sound education base. The only media education in the country, a Bachelor course at the Lao National University, is run by literature teachers and not by journalists,” she said.

The following debate started off with a discussion on the recently shut down radio programme “Talk of the News” between programme host Ounkeo Souksavan and the Deputy Director of the Lao National Radio Vorasack Pravongviengkham.

Other issues raised by participants were media quality through better education and higher salaries for journalists, how to better protect press freedom and to step away from self-censorship, and how media should better reach out to people and become a two-way communications channel.

The event was closed by Mr Clement who confirmed UNESCO’s continuous support in developing the media sector in Lao PDR and who expressed his strong belief that next year Lao journalists will meet again to jointly celebrate with UNESCO World Press Freedom Day.

 


For more information: www.unescobkk.org/communication-and-information/
Links: 
www.unescobkk.org/news/article/world-press-freedom-in-myanmar/
www.seapabkk.org/alerts/100572-seapa-alert-laos-government-orders-radio-show-off-the-air.html

By Rojana Manowalailao and Dieter Schlenker, UNESCO Bangkok