International Myanmar Studies conference 2014 in Singapore and Myanmar Media

(continued from 17-8-2014)

When this writer checked the multifaceted topics taken up for presentation, it was found that there were (40) sessions from 1 to 3 August 2014, with the time frame of one and a half hour for each topic. The interesting topics as seen by the writer were:

(a) The Economy I and II;

(b) Ethnic Issues I, II and III;

(c) Reforms and Transition;

(d) Media in Transition;

(e) Changing relations between Myanmar, United States and China;

(f) Civil Society;

(g) Society I and II, and other motley assortment of topics.

A total of (12) topics were presented in (4) separate venues with time slot of one and a half hours on 1 August. The speakers presented (16) topic on 2 August, and (12) topics on 3 August. Total of (40) sessions were realized. It was really interesting and laudable to the organizers as well as the sponsors that could loop in (120) Panel Speakers in the academic events.

The writer of this article has intentionally chosen on the perspective of the “Media and Transition in Myanmar”, which was in the item number (10). It is due to the reason that President U Thein Sein strongly urged ministries and media to build relations based on ethics and mutual respect on 1 August 2014.

Summary of the Panel: The panel has explored the situation facing media during the current transitional period in Myanmar. The panel engaged with both the history of the various media in the country and the current social, economic and legal contexts the media must now navigate. The panel consisted of three research presentations that laid out the current situation facing both urban-based media and the regional and ethnic media covering the rural areas, and that they also place the Myanmar media’s transition period in historical and conceptual context. By laying out the current situation and analyzing how Myanmar’s case is similar and different from transitional periods faced by other media systems. The organizers had hoped from the academic conference that journalists, policymakers, and educators might benefit.

Papers presented at the academic conference were as follows. “Assessing the media reforms in Myanmar: constraints and controls in the new reporting environment” was presented by Jennifer Leehey, PhD, Research Coordinator, and for “Understanding Myanmar’s Development” project, Chiang Mai University.

Summary of presentation: The paper reported on the shifting media-scope in Myanmar in the post-2010 period, focusing especially on the changing regulatory framework for print media. Without question, there has been significant liberalization of Myanmar’s private media sector in recent years, following decades of overtly repressive state control. The long-standing Press Scrutiny Board was dismantled in 2012.

In 2013, the government granted dozens of new broadcast and publishing licenses to private entities, and privately owned daily newspapers went on sale in Myanmar for the first time in 50 years. These developments have been hailed by Myanmar-watchers and analysts as critical in the country’s move toward democracy and political reform. However, there is continuing uncertainty about the new legal framework that will replace the 1962 Printers and Publishers’ Registration Law and how far freedom of the press will really extend. The Ministry of Information has proposed legislation that, arguably, replicates aspects of the old system, much to the dismay of independent journalists’ organizations. At the same time, journalists and editors voice concern about the rising influence of powerful business interests on the media, as tycoons with links to high-ranking members of the former military government position themselves in the new media scene.

The paper highlighted the interviews conducted with journalists and editors in the country in the past year. While the focus was on print news media, it also assessed the conditions for broadcast and online media. At stake at this juncture was the image of a post-authoritarian Myanmar where free speech flourishes in a liberalized “marketplace of ideas.” The “marketplace of ideas” is a rationale for freedom of expression based on an analogy, a comparison of one thing with another thing that has similar features, to the economic concept of a free market. The “marketplace of ideas” belief holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse and dialogue. This concept is often applied to discussions of patent law as well as freedom of the press and the responsibilities of the media in a liberal democracy.

The paper expressed the critical consideration of the emerging constellations of power and interest that are poised to shape and constrain or hold back the public talk going forward.

Another presentation was as follows.
The Role of Ethnic Media in Reforming Myanmar” was submitted by Soe Lynn Htwe, Research Fellow, Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University, and freelancer based in Chiang Mai.

Summary of presentation: Myanmar is a country where Kachin, Kayinni, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan are main ethnic groups that have their own literature and language as well as culture. Between 1836 and 1846 first ethnic Kayin language newspapers were appeared.

In 1842 September, a monthly Sgaw Kayin language publication was established by the Baptist mission. However, after General Ne Win’s Tatmadaw took power in 1962, all of the ethnic publications disappeared. In the 1990s, ethnic media bloomed again in exile. Since 2011, political reforms implemented by President U Thein Sein’s civilian government have significantly become a focal point in international concerns.

In the new government’s reform process, improvement of press freedoms is noticeable not only for mainstream media but also for many different exile and ethnic media organizations, who now have a chance to gain a foothold inside the country. The paper has explored the role of ethnic media in a reforming Myanmar. Proper media outlets for ethnic groups are necessary because media in any form is important for maintaining ethnic culture that can help each group to understand and explore their own culture.

The research paper included analysis of print and online media as well as ethnic radio and TV outlets of the smaller ethnic media such as “Kantayawaddy Times” (KT), which is operated by ethnic Kayinni journalists who were previously based in a refugee camp in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. Such cases were compared with larger ethnic media outlets such as the Kayin Information Centre (KIC), run by ethnic Kayin journalists based in Mae Sot.

The comparative study, through surface appearances or face value to deeper conceptualizations or to form a serious idea, would offer the attitude of ethnic minorities and their journals as well as a deeper understanding of the particular challenges facing ethnic media in reforming Myanmar, where the landscape of ethnic media has a different market, funding, and language.

The next presentation was as follows.
Media, Human Rights Discourse and Democratic Transition: What Myanmar Can Learn from Other Experiences” was presented by Lisa Brooten, PhD, Associate Professor, College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, USA.

Summary of presentation: The paper has featured an overview of lessons learned from media in transition, with a focus on the use of human rights discourse in transition periods and on those situations most useful to analyze in relation to the current transition period in Myanmar.

Much of the human right discourse was uncritical or not willing to criticize whether right or wrong. Furthermore, it was rather implicit or suggested without being directly expressed. It employs the dominant focus on individual and civil political rights, tacitly or indirectly diverting attention from calls from critical scholars to more fully respect social, economic and cultural rights. It was happening in the groups especially those of minority and otherwise marginalized groups.

In media and communications study, the tension was obvious in the focus on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It was detriment or disadvantage in a broader understanding of communication rights, especially for those groups marginalized in mainstream media discourse.

This broader concept included the recognition of people’s right to access media as citizens rather than merely as passive recipients of media or most often from state-controlled or commercial media. It meant to move from an “information transmission” model to a “relational model” of media. The purpose of the “relational model” is to provide a declarative method for specifying data and queries. The users directly state what information the database contains and what information they want from it. The intention is to let the database management system software take care of describing data structures for storing the data and retrieval procedures for answering queries.

The paper has provided a comparative overview of media reform efforts in transitional countries, in which calls for media democratization involve contextually and culturally specific visions for a broadened set of communication rights. The exploration of these efforts offers insights into the challenges and opportunities for promoting communication rights and other human rights in Myanmar and other non-western contexts.

The writer of this article has no intention to make assessment and observation on the presentations, but put forward the academic presentations held in Singapore to the esteemed readers.

There are some burning issues in the Myanmar media circle, which the writer would like to point out without any comments.

On 1 August 2014, U Ye Htut has been appointed as Union Minister of the Ministry of Information, in place of U Aung Kyi.

On the same day of 1 August, President U Thein Sein urged ministries and media to build relations based on ethics and mutual respect. He told the Myanmar Interim Press Council in Nay Pyi Taw that the government bodies and the media are required to build good relations on ethics and mutual respects. They exchanged views on cooperation between the administration branch and the media, strengthening the process of handling of the ethical problems by the Myanmar Interim Press Council, measures for effective release of information by government ministries, ways to solve ethical problems of journalists through the press council instead of legal action, holding workshop for building trust between government ministries and journalists.

The president admitted that there are weaknesses in releasing information of government ministries and promised to cooperate with the Interim Press Council.

The writer of this article is of the view that the problems cropped up mainly due to the weaknesses and delays in releasing adequate and firm information of the government agencies. As the government is endeavoring to establish e-government network system, the government departments starting from the ministries should expedite in updating the respective websites. When the relevant websites of the government departments are timely updated and functioning well, then the public including the media persons can have access to the information they wish to know.

It may need to mention that all the above information with regard to the summary of presentation of various papers were accessible from anywhere at the Websites of the National University Of Singapore.

Misunderstanding between the government bodies and the media could be reduced and gradually removed. The buzz word of the president that the government bodies and the media are required to build good relations on ethics and mutual respects is true and correct. This is the best possible way to address the issue.

With the long term perspective, when the departments dealing with the general public stepped ahead with the “online working procedure”, the chances of bribery and corruption could be reduced as the “online” system could avoid malpractices.

A well-planned e-government strategy can make leap into building more efficient, accountable and transparent government. It can build citizens trust in government, promote economic growth by improving interface with business, and empower citizens to participate in advancing good governance.

The main intention and trust of the writer of this article is to convey some part of the topics spelt out at the “International Myanmar Studies Conference 2014: Singapore” to the esteemed readers. However, the recent change of Union Minister of the Ministry of Information and the meeting of the president with the Press Interim Council prompted the writer to add some perspective and viewpoint on the ways and means to build trust between the government bodies and the media, to avoid corruption and to lead the path to good governance.

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