The Myanmar Press Council observed World Press Freedom Day in Yangon yesterday, and leaders of the country shared their messages at a ceremony held to mark the day.
Union Minister for Information Dr. Pe Myint first read a message from President U Win Myint at the ceremony. Afterwards, the chairman of the Myanmar Press Council U Ohn Kyaing read a message from State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Then, MP U Myint Lwin and the Commander of Yangon Region Command, Maj-Gen Thet Pon, read messages from the Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, U T Khun Myat, and the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, respectively.
Dr. Pe Myint said the objective behind the ceremony was respecting press freedom, and protecting and promoting it.
The Union Minister said a significant issue related with freedom of the press was discussed at the annual celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, and the theme for the 2019 World Press Freedom Day is Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.
“Democracy and media, and a democratic country and freedom of press are inseparable. A democracy provides freedom, equality, and justice,” he said.
“While the media pushes for press freedom, it also pays attention to equality and justice. This means that democracy and media share the same goals and values,” he added.
The first part of this year’s theme for World Press Freedom Day is ‘Media for Democracy’ and the second part is ‘Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’.
“Disinformation can be considered as fake news. More accurately, it can be defined as providing and distributing information that is not true,” he said.
Disinformation is not incidental, but intentional as it involves sending or writing fake news with the intent of tricking people, said the minister.
Fabricated news, fake news, or untrue news is being distributed globally today, said the Union Minister.
While the word ‘fake news’ emerged about three to five years ago, the term is not entirely modern, and has been known in the world and here as well.
“The difference between fake news in the past and today is that the number of false stories is now increasing. With dishonest people producing and distributing it, fake news has become an immense challenge,” said the Union Minister.
Fake news in a Post-truth World
Union Minister Dr. Pe Myint said the age of fake news is developing in front of our eyes and used the word ‘post-truth’ to describe the current situation.
The word ‘post-truth’ was popular about four-five years ago, and was regarded as the most significant word of 2016.
Post-truth can be defined as a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than facts, said the Union Minister.
“Once people begin to believe in and value untrue information, human society will fall under the influence of liars,” said Dr. Pe Myint.
Era of fake news poses challenges to journalists in elections
Fake news poses a challenge to journalists covering elections, said Union Minister Dr. Pe Myint.
“Elections can be said to be the lifeblood of a democracy. Free and fair elections are most important in a democracy. A democracy can last only when the people get the opportunity to elect their representatives by taking part in elections,” he said.
To strengthen and perpetuate a democracy, people need to be supported so that they can perform their duties properly, and therefore, providing information to the people is vital, he said. It is the duty of the media to provide information related to electoral knowledge, facts about political parties and their candidates, their stance, opinions, policies, history, capacity, and qualifications to the people.
He continued to say that the public will obtain information from news media personnel and various news media. The news media and news media personnel will describe their supports and oppositions of policies, parties and organizations based on their stands and belief. Regardless of how many differing opinions and views they may present they’ll have the aims of making the public accept their views and oppositions. As long as this was conducted with good faith and honesty, this would be very good.
The public will know news and information from all angles and view points. The public will get to know the country’s affairs viewed from different angles and sides. From those, the public will select and choose what they like.
This is being fair and just. This was what required most importantly in a democracy system. For a sustained existence of a democracy system news media personnel need to provide exact facts and information to the public.
Not only in our country but also in the world today there had been an outbreak of vast amount of untrue and fake news. Due to such disinformation when elections were held in countries, there were incidences of the public making decisions that were guided by falsehoods and deceits. In other words, the votes of the public were stolen through deceits and lies. Furthermore incitements and instabilities were caused during the election period through distribution of such disinformation, he said.
It was known to all that our country was arranging to hold a general election in 2020. Everyone also knows that during that time the distraction and enticement toward instability through incorrect and fake news can occur. Candidates participating in the election will be affected and damaged by untrue and fake news. They’ll be attacked with untrue and fake news. Untrue and fake news will change the views and thoughts of the public, he said.
When the outcome and results of the elections were not as expected by the public, the public’s belief in the election system would be reduced. If political parties, politicians as well as political system and election system were affected by the untrue and fake news, the democracy system itself could be on the brink of collapsing and pose dangers for its existence, he added.
While the untrue and fake news affect the democracy system and the country’s stability, at the same time, it will also affect the news media too. As untrue and fake news spread the media, the faith and trust of the public toward the media will diminish. In times of disinformation, elections, democracy system were affected while journalism and journalists were also affected.
There had been discussions within the news media circle on how to prevent and obstruct this. There are ways and means and some were seen to doing it. As mentioned earlier when a stage beyond post truth was reached, the situation will have degenerated from ignoring truth to pursuing falsehood. To prevent this, news media personnel need to counter with truth. Care must be taken toward ensuring the truth of the news that they were publishing. In fact this was the main function of news media personnel. The first ethic a news media personnel need to hold on to is to provide true facts and information. Maintaining this ethic would enable the public to know the truth and retain the faith and trust of the public toward the news media. This is how the reconstruction work should be done.
Another thing is to expose the fabrication in the untrue and fake news. As untrue and fake news come by, there were journalists and media organizations that conduct fact-checking on such news. It was learnt that Myanmar Press Council was starting this now. Furthermore there were also groups and entities doing the same thing in Myanmar. These groups and entities were seen as the one that’ll expose and eradicate untrue and fake news.
Another thing is to raise Media and Information Literacy of the public. That is to raise the knowledge and understanding of the public on evaluating the news and information. It is to make the public have Media Literacy and Information Literacy. If these were conducted by news media personnel the danger of untrue and fake news can be overcome. Further cooperation can be provided by those who are related to election. For true news and information on election to be distributed to the public, those involved in the election matters like election organizing entities, participating parties, election monitoring entities, local and foreign entities must conduct their works in a just and fair manner. When these entities, organizations and groups work together systematically with news media, the important period of 2019-2020 will be successful passed truthfully and justly, said the Union Minister.
Following the opening address of Union Minister Dr. Pe Myint, Deputy Minister for Information U Aung Hla Tun also delivered a key-note speech.
Afterwards, Chairman of the Myanmar Press Council (Hanthawady-U Ohn Kyaing) and Chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission U Win Mra also delivered addresses.
Next, U Han Nyunt (Han Nyunt-Law) read a message from Chairman of the Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission.
Afterwards, Ms. Min Jeong Kim, Resident Representative of the UNESCO, read a message from the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres.
In the afternoon session, representatives concerned read messages Myanmar Journalists Association, Myanmar Writers Association, Myanmar Journalists Network, Myanmar Press Union, Myanmar Writers Union, Myanmar Cartoonists Association, Myanmar Printers and Publishers Association and Myanmar Media Development Centre.
At the ceremony, the Myanmar Press Council issued a declaration for the World Press Freedom Day.
About 100 countries celebrated the World Press Freedom Day was observed yesterday providing a platforms for multiple actors to exchange on current issues concerning with challenges of press in elections and prospects of media’s cooperation in peace and integration.
The main celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2019 took place in Addis Ababa, from 1 to 3 May 2019. —MNA(Translated by Zaw Min)