World Press Freedom Day: Journalists and Civil Society call for reforms and media literacy for greater Press Freedom in Myanmar

World Press Freedom Day: Journalists and Civil Society call for reforms and media literacy for greater Press Freedom in Myanmar

On the 4th of May, UNESCO organized the World Press Freedom Day for the sixth time in Myanmar. The event took place amid claims by civil society, journalism associations and human rights organizations of the shrinking space for media freedom in the country over the past year. During the event, representatives of the judiciary, civil society, media, and lawyers network debated the crucial role of the media in keeping power in check and the importance of the rule of law and an independent judiciary to protect journalists in exercising their profession.

The event was opened by Ms Min Jeong Kim, Head of UNESCO Myanmar Project Office, who honored in her speech the “women and men journalists who, guided by professional ethics and an independent mind, often put their lives at risk to defend freedom of the press in Myanmar”. Ms Min Jeong Kim also remembered the two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are currently in detention and undergoing trial under the Official Secrets Act; and the 24 journalists who are currently facing trial under the Telecommunications Law 66 (d).

In his key note address, Mr Swe Win, Chief Editor of Myanmar Now who has been charged under the article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law, pointed out that “Due to the case against the Reuters reporters, reporters are more reluctant to write about issues like corruption and injustices. On the other hand, the Government is also becoming more cautious when talking to the media”.

Ms Htaike Htaike Aung, an advocate for internet freedom, denounced in her keynote speech that the internet is increasingly being used for surveillance and that vague regulation around defamation is being used to oppress and silence critical voices. Appealing to the government, law-makers and the public she recalled that “freedom of expression is a right and we can’t allow it to be challenged offline or online”.

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A moment during the panel discussion held in Yangon on the World Press Freedom Day

The event continued with a panel discussion that included U Htain Win, retired judge and advisor at the Rule of Law Centre; U Kyaw Min Swe, Chief Editor of The Voice Weekly; Ma Thida (San Chaung), writer, editor and human rights advocate; and U Than Zaw Aung, Vice-Chairman of Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network who is also defending one of the detained Reuters journalists. The panel, which was moderated by a member of the Myanmar Press Council, Dr Maun Maung San, stressed the need to raise awareness on the role of media in a democracy. “The Government, the judges, the parliament (…) need more media literacy, they need to understand that journalists are not enemies,” said U Kyaw Min Swe. Ma Thida added that the Government needs to do more to improve and protect Press Freedom in Myanmar referring to the findings of two recent reports by Free Expression Myanmar and PEN Myanmar which conclude that press freedom is declining in Myanmar and point at the low performance of  the Government and the Tatmadaw  (Military) in this respect.

During the event, UNESCO screened a series of short videos to provide a snapshot of press freedom is perceived by the Myanmar public. The videos can be viewed here.

The World Press Freedom Day was organized with the financial support of the Kingdom of Sweden.

 

Main photo caption:  Ms Htaike Htaike Aung, internet freedom advocate, talking to the media during the event.

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Play List for all videos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtvM0YNQHPA&list=PLLYTKdynzQYeq_PdEG7oP9KnkIPGEZkaZ