In­ter­na­tional me­dia event ex­plores chal­lenges to press free­dom

Mizzima Business Weekly - - AFFAIRS - Theresa Henne

As a small group of pro­test­ers stood out­side, par­tic­i­pants at the In­ter­na­tional Press In­sti­tute world congress dis­cussed the chal­lenges to press free­dom in Myan­mar and through­out the world.

About 250 del­e­gates from dozens of coun­tries at­tended the first IPI event to be held in Myan­mar, on the theme “On the path to a free me­dia”, at the Cha­trium Ho­tel in Yan­gon from March 27 to 29.

The top­ics dis­cussed by del­e­gates ranged from the legal frame­work needed in Myan­mar to pro­mote free­dom of speech to fi­nanc­ing jour­nal­ism in fu­ture and how sen­si­tive top­ics in­volv­ing reli­gion should be cov­ered in break­ing news.

Many ses­sions re­ferred to the change from print to on­line me­dia and the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties it presents for me­dia groups and jour­nal­ists.

The event was sub­ject to a boy­cott called by some Myan­mar jour­nal­ists in sup­port of the re­lease of three re­porters ar­rested dur­ing the crack­down on pro­test­ers at Let­padan on March 10.

Dur­ing one of the panel dis­cus­sions, jour­nal­ist Soe Yarzar Tun, wear­ing a mask, stood silently in the au­di­to­rium hold­ing aloft a sign say­ing “Stop beat­ing, ar­rest­ing, im­pris­on­ing jour­nal­ists”. The panel’s mem­bers in­cluded In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter U Ye Htut, who said the protest was a sign of how much Myan­mar was chang­ing.

In a dis­cus­sion on pro­tect­ing’s jour­nal­ists’ safety, Char­lie Sen­nott, the vice-pres­i­dent, edi­tor-at-large and co-founder of the Global-Post and founder of the Ground-Truth Project, said ex­trem­ist groups such as Is­lamic State have no need of jour­nal­ists to re­port on their ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause they rely on the in­ter­net. Mr Sen­nott said jour­nal­ists in the past were pro­tected by the fact that they car­ried mes­sages that all sides to a con­flict wanted to be pub­li­cised.

A pan­elist at the same ses­sion, Al Ja- zeera jour­nal­ist Jane Ar­raf, who cov­ered the war in Iraq when she was with CNN, said it was not pos­si­ble to elim­i­nate risk but that risk eval­u­a­tion was es­sen­tial. Jour­nal­ists work­ing in danger­ous sit­u­a­tions need care­ful prepa­ra­tion and lo­cal knowl­edge to help pro­tect them­selves, she said.

“We need to sell news in a prof­itable and valu­able man­ner,” said Zam­bia Post edi­tor Fred M’membe in a dis­cus­sion on the chal­lenges to print me­dia from the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. The ses­sion heard most me­dia groups make lit­tle money from the rise of the mo­bile me­dia that has ac­com­pa­nied the decline in the print me­dia.

7Day Daily edi­tor-in-chief U Thaung Su Nyein spoke of a sit­u­a­tion in which news­pa­pers post con­tent on so­cial me­dia such as Face­book, that earn rev­enue from ad­ver­tis­ing.

“Face­book en­gage­ment in Myan­mar is ex­tremely high, but we don’t have con­trol on ad­ver­tis­ing there,” U Thaung Su Nyein said.

No­bel peace prize lau­re­ate and mi­cro-fi­nance cham­pion Mo­hammed Yunus said fi­nan­cial sys­tems must be in­clu­sive.

Mi­cro-fi­nance solved the prob­lem caused by banks that only wanted to lend to those with a cer­tain level of in­come and ex­cluded the poor.

“Poverty does not be­long to hu­man be­ings, we are all by na­ture en­trepreneur­s,” said Dr Yunus.

Mod­er­ate voices don’t sell, said Swami Ag­nivesh, a cam­paigner against bonded labour and founder co­or­di­na­tor of the Par­lia­ment of All Faiths, dur­ing a ses­sion on cov­er­ing break­ing news events in­volv­ing re­li­gious sen­si­tiv­ity. Of­ten the loud­est and most con­tro­ver­sial voices are heard that do not rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity and an ex­am­ple was the ex­trem­ist groups in Is­lam.

In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter U Ye Htut, speak­ing at the IPI World Congress, waves a copy of Mizzima Weekly and claims there is free­dom of the press in Myan­mar. Photo: Hong Sar

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