With nearly 300 participants, the 2nd Conference on Media Development in Myanmar, held from 20 to 21 May in Yangonmarked, represented a significant milestone in Myanmar’s media reform process. Under the theme “The Role of Media in Democratic Transitions: Successes, Challenges and the Way Forward”, government officials, private and state-owned media companies, professional journalists associations, academia, civil society and international organizations met to take stock and emerge with a set of practical recommendations for the further development of Myanmar media.
The conference took place after a year of significant changes in Myanmar’s media sector, with the abolition of censorship, the drafting of new media laws, the establishment of an interim press council and the recent re-emergence of Myanmar’s first private daily newspapers.
“This one year’s journey of media development has shown the importance of committed ties between the Government, UNESCO, IMS (International Media Support), the interim press council, the local and international media institutions and civil society. Our country’s media reform cannot be fully accomplished without the active participation of all of you,” said U Aung Kyi, Union Minister for Information, at the opening of the conference.
The event was organized by the Ministry of Information and the Myanmar Media Development Thematic Working Group (MDTWG) in partnership with UNESCO and IMS, with the support of a wide range of development partners, and international and national media groups. It covered topics such as media legislation and regulation; regional media reforms; media, peace and conflict; the business of media; public service media; media and good governance; and journalism training and education.
“Free media is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Independent journalism requires real independence from economic and political ownership, proper education and further training, and profitable companies that reinvest in journalism. We will continue to partner with Myanmar in its reform process towards truly independent and free media,” said Danish Ambassador Mikael Winther, on behalf of the embassies of Denmark, Sweden and Norway as the key donors of the conference.
UNESCO Deputy Regional Director, Etienne Clement, expressed satisfaction on the outcomes of the discussions. He noted that it was a very “inclusive” forum as journalists from local and ethnic media actively participated in the debates. He challenged the participants to focus now on the next steps to be undertaken. “After listening to commitments, plans of action and success stories, we should now continue with concrete actions to ensure that Myanmar becomes a real showcase of successful democratic transition.” Clement also reminded the participants from diverse sectors of the importance of working together.
The conference canvassed many policy options and action agendas. Participants emphasized the need for access to information and the passage of a freedom of information law; policies and programmes which will support wider distribution of newspapers and journals in remote communities; and greater transparency by national and local officials in dealing with the news media.
As the private sector begins to invest more in the media sector, an agenda on how to ensure a fair and competitive business environment was also extensively discussed. Capacity development of journalists was identified among the top priorities in almost all sessions, including both academic degree and short-term courses. Participants also debated parameters for media coverage of the peace process, elections, human rights and other development concerns.
The conference ended with much optimism that the momentum for media reform can be sustained and even accelerated with more stakeholders involved, especially at the local levels.