The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
(Clause 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Free and fair elections are fundamental to the democratic system. The media plays a role by rapidly disseminating information about politicians, parties, the government and the election commission before and during elections. In addition, the media also has a responsibility to communicate the expectations, desires and will of the people to competing political parties and political forces.
It is a challenge for the media to be fair and unbiased in reporting election news. The election of a trustworthy government to fulfil the will of the people relies on the coverage of the media.
In his latest message, President U Thein Sein said that the General Election would be held in the first week of November, 2015. The international community is closely watching the 2015 General Election in Myanmar’s transition.
Embassies of Australia, Denmark, the EU, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States have been notably assisting the Myanmar Government and non-governmental organisations in the election process, according to a statement of the embassies dated 3 March.
The statement also said such assistance is being given as the election is proof of democratic reform in Myanmar.
Also mentioned in the statement is one of the assistance programs, a course for the media to report trustworthy and unbiased news. Media freedom, freedom of expression, being free from racial discrimination and protection of human rights by the people are essential for trustworthy elections.
With the assistance of the US Government, the Washington-based International Center for Journalists organized courses on covering election news in Yangon and Mandalay for the first time.
Although coverage of the 2010 elections was lower in the printed media, by-elections in 2012 were covered and reported in a relatively freer manner. The media has a chance to play an important role in 2015 General Election.
Myanmar journalists are required to be prepared for the elections. Secretary of Myanmar Journalist Network U Myint Kyaw said it is necessary for Myanmar journalists to enhance their skills in reporting election news and, as the media is the interpreter for the public, journalists need to understand the language of elections to interpret what they see. In reporting election news, it is important to be fair and unbiased ethically.
Otherwise, the party favoured by a news report may be happy but those that are not favoured will lose trust in the media. Therefore, it is important to be professional, according to the secretary of the MJN.
At a course on election news writing organised in February at the American Centre, Union Minister for Information U Ye Htut said the government media will provide space to political parties equally. In addition, he added that the government media will be careful about news reports on the activities of the government ministries, so that they cannot be considered campaigning for elections, and the government media will explain important facts for the elections in simple language and in the languages of ethnic national races so that the public can easily understand them.
He said on 25 February that it is necessary that the 2015 General Election is free and fair and the election results are acceptable and that government newspapers will carry news reports in a fair manner regardless of party.
There are still weaknesses in the Myanmar media in reporting election news. It is the responsibility of the media to disseminate the true images of candidates and political parties and information about the election to the public in no time.
Trainer Daw Khin May Zaw of the ICFJ said that elections depend on the will of the people. What people desire is free and fair elections, with the media responsible for helping them be realised. In many countries, situations deteriorated and violence broke out due to media reports on election tensions. Therefore, the responsibility of the media is to act as the ears and eyes of the people. The media disseminate knowledge about elections to the public. Only then, will people be able to elect candidates correctly.
By Ye Khaung, Nanda, Myat Thandar