Myanmar Celebrates Historic World Press Freedom Day 2015

04 May 2015, Yangon – The symbolic celebration of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) organised by UNESCO Yangon Office and the Ministry of Information was held for the fourth consecutive year on 03 May 2015 in Yangon. The joint commemorative event which, for the first time, brought together the Union Minister for Information, H.E. U Ye Htut, and opposition leader and Chair of Rule of Law and Tranquillity Committee of Parliament, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, along with representatives of the Interim Myanmar Press Council, Myanmar Journalist Association, Myanmar Journalists Network, and Burma News International/Ethnic Media. The event was very well-attended by Ambassadors, Development Partners and other media stakeholders, including young journalists, students and faculty members of the Department of Journalism, and members of Civil Society Organisations.

In his remarks, Union Minister for Information, U Ye Htut emphasised on the security of journalists especially in conflict affected areas, noting that “There is not only a physical threat but also a psychological threat to journalists that impedes them from performing their duties freely and in accordance with their code of conduct, and everyone must play his part in ensuring safety of journalists.” The Minister also reaffirmed the Ministry’s commitment to building an inclusive media environment, where the voices of women, children, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are also heard.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged Myanmar Journalists to help ensure that the upcoming 2015 General Elections is held in a transparent, free and fair manner through unbiased reporting. She also called on journalists to increase efforts to bring press freedom through social media but to equally insist on greater ethics with dignity. She emphasised the importance of media freedom by highlighting the types of media censorship, stating: “Myanmar dropped pre-publication censorship in 2012. Self-censorship is not a good thing. In accordance with the code of ethics of journalism, reporters should not self-censor but be brave enough to point out the wrongdoings in our society. We do agree that media freedom has increased in recent years but it is not yet perfect.”

The joint statement by UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Ms. Irina Bokova and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on World Press Freedom Day was read by Mr. Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO Myanmar Head of Office. In line with the theme of this year’s celebration, Mr Alam added that “in this election year, we urge authorities to make special efforts during the election period to ensure that the media community has free and full access, and reports freely without fear and intimidation from anyone.”

U Kyaw Min Swe, Secretary of the Interim Myanmar Press Council, emphasised the role of the Council in upholding freedom of expression and protecting the rights of journalists in Myanmar, and announced that the by-law for the establishment of the permanent council has already been drafted. Acknowledging the great progress achieved by the country in terms of freedom of expression, U Thiha Saw, Vice-Chairman of the Myanmar Journalists Association, mentioned in his statement “We are now among the top three freest countries in Freedom of Press in the ASEAN community. We did climb up substantially but we all know that we still have a long way to go.” For U Myint Kyaw, Secretary General of the Myanmar Journalists Network, closer collaboration between media and the Government is needed in order to pursue greater freedom of the press.

Representing Ethnic Media, Daw Thair Thinzar Oo from Burma News International, highlighted the role that media is playing in monitoring the peace process and stated that “Ethnic media can serve as a bridge between the ethnic armed groups, the government and civilian population to establish lasting peace in the country”.

Young journalists were also represented in the event by U Loom Sign Aung, student from the Department of Journalism at the National Management College. His said that “Five years ago who would have believed that the people of Myanmar would be able to practice “freedom of expression” like today? However we have all realised the importance that the media has for the ongoing process of the country’s development. It is vital that all youth must know use and abuse of media. We must have awareness of the power of the media and the danger of hate speech.”

UNESCO is supporting the Ministry of Information and media stakeholders in undertaking media development reforms in Myanmar and serves as Co-chair of the Media Development Thematic Working Group in Myanmar.