Myanmar Media Law Reform A Key Test of Non-Partisan Press-2

*Editor’s note: This is the last of two part stories on Myanmar Media Law.

To Thailand-based  editor Aung Zaw the Press reforms represent the government’s switch to a more sophisticated approach in handling the media.

He would like to see Unescos best practices reflected in the Press charter. As highlighted at the  Unesco media conference hosted by the government in March, the media development indicators include :
* a system of regulations to deal with freedom of expression,
* a plural and diverse media. :
* media as a platform for democratic discourse, and
* professional capacity building and support institutions. . 
  
Much as they are exuberant about the changes, Myanmar’s relatively new  journalists know they need to polish up their act  in the essentially uncharted territory.
 
“We are like a kid who is trying to walk on his own but we are not mature enough.

We have to do a lot of thing to be ready when the media open up very rapidly,” said Myint Kyaw.

For one thing, the 1,500 journalists in the field who pick up critical skills such as investigative reporting on the job or from textbooks need professional training.

“In practice, however, we do adapt and have our own Burmese style journalism,” he said.

Indeed, Paul Linnarz, director of media programme Asia, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung(Singapore Office), found many newspaper staff in Yangon were “incredibly young, 20 or 21, and working only two to three years with no formal training”.

They need urgent help to be trained professionally, he said.

Beyond the reporting skills, Myanmar journalists need a professional code of conduct to guide them in their work, just like doctors with their Hippocratic Oath.

An ethical code will cover the universal values of accuracy and honesty, objectivity and fair play, as well as the laws of defamation and privacy. Such self-regulation serve to steer journalists clear of  problems and complaints that a Press Council will deal with.

In principle, this must also govern the way citizen journalists going about their work, especially online bloggers.

As part of Asean, Myanmar media profesionals would also do well to be aware of political sensitivities of their neighbour. Members of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ) observe a profession code, which guards against jingoistic Press coverage  that inflaming differences between Asean members

Even as the future media is shaping up, editor Soe Myint back after 23 years exile in India,  has raised the question of a non-partisan Press.

“Media practitioners, said the managing director of Mizzima Media, “have to guard against becoming either propagandists for the old regime or for thos those who consider themselves the best and ‘truest’ advocates of democracy.

“Ours is a watchdog role and we must not forget th at truth has many facets.”

Given that Press freedom and democracy is mutually reinforcing, this is indeed a tough act to follow, especially in the context of Myanmar Ideologically, the media fraternity may be seen as soulmates of Aung San Suu Kyi in her struggle for democracy. 
     
What’s more, journalists are expected to play their part in advancing democracy in the Asean regionally and globally. It was an article of faith with  the South-east Asia Press Alliance (Seapa), a counterpart to CAJ.

“The media must be an independent source of information for citizens, a platform to communicate and fulfill a watchdog function,” Seapa chairman Kavi Chongkittavorn in his presentation at the Unesco media conference.
 
However, professionalism dictates that journalists be as objective as possible by giving fair treatment to the news and views of the government and the opposition.

Ideally, news media must also not be drawn into party politics; instead they should stay above the fray and act as a neutral observer. It will then  be seen as credible and serving the public or national interest.. 

This is easier said than done. In some Asean countries, the Press have lost their Fourth Estate status, a casualty of political power play.

As a late-comer in the search for .an ideal Press model, the government and media in Myanmar have the advantage of drawing lessons from the experiments of Asean countries and beyond. 
  
Whatever, the outcome, Myanmar’s version of a legal Press system, complete with a Press Council,  is preferred to the charade of Press censorship or  self-censorship.

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