Joint calls to further strengthen "free and pluralistic media" during Myanmar's World Press Freedom Day celebration

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05 May 2014, Yangon -- Myanmar celebrated World Press Freedom Day for the third consecutive year with a 03 May 2014 ceremony at Chatrium Hotel, Yangon, organized by UNESCO. Significantly, the event brought together all media stakeholders in Myanmar, including the Union Minister of Information, Interim Myanmar Press Council, Myanmar Journalists Association, Myanmar Journalists Network, Burma News International/Ethnic Media, and students and academics from the Department of Journalism, around a shared commitment to media freedom. The event was also well-attended by Ambassadors and Development Partners from the international community.

The joint commemorative event provided a platform for key media stakeholders to express their commitment to promote and protect what is still newfound freedom of expression after nearly half a century of dictatorship until the government of President U Thein Sein introduced wide-ranging democratic reforms in 2012.

In his remarks, Union Minister for Information H.E. U Aung Kyi emphasized the significant media freedom milestones which have been reached over the past three years, including the lifting of press censorship, the return of private daily newspapers, the release of a number of imprisoned bloggers and journalists, the emergence of several independent press and publishers associations, and the adoption of new printing and media laws.

“Free and pluralistic media is vital to good governance in a democratic society in which equal rights are accorded to all citizens,” the Union Minister stated. He reaffirmed the government’s intention to fully implement two fundamental, inter-linked principles: the right to free expression for media professionals and the right to freely seek information through the media for all citizens. The joint statement by UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director General Ms. Irina Bokova on World Press Freedom Day was read by Mr. Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO Myanmar Head of Office. As Mr. Alam noted, “the representation of all media stakeholders at this event clearly sends a strong message that freedom of expression and human rights are at the heart of reforms and everyone, together, is willing to play their part to address these challenges.”

U Kyaw Min Swe, Secretary of the Interim Myanmar Press Council, emphasized the role of the Council in upholding freedom of expression and protecting the rights of journalists in Myanmar. In his statement, U Ko Ko, Chairman of the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA), said, “As Myanmar legislators are developing media laws, we need to carefully examine and monitor whether those regulations and laws can best safeguard the freedom of expression.” He further announced that MJA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Journalism to develop the capacities of teachers and students.

While recognizing advancements made in the media sector, U Ko Ko Zaw of Burma News International, reminded attendees that journalists in Myanmar still face threats, citing three recent incidents where freedom of expression has not been respected. He urged the Interim Press Council to defend and protect media personnel and stressed the importance of ethnic media groups to “serve as a bridge among the ethnic armed groups, the government, and the civilian population to establish lasting peace in the country.” This message was further emphasized by U Myint Kyaw, of the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN) in his statement.

Maung Gin Sian Lian, a journalist student from the Department of Journalism, reflected, “the rejection of one’s opinion was what most youth experienced for a long time in the past, and as students, the freedom of expression and speech that we are now enjoying in our country is warmly welcome. I hope that the government will always support press freedom, not only now but for the years to come.” The ceremony ended with a video tribute to the late U Win Tin, a former journalist and UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner who was imprisoned by past regimes for almost 20 years for his writings. U Win Tin served as a keynote speaker at last year’s World Press Freedom Day celebration where he acknowledged the media reforms that had been initiated in the country, memorably noting, “I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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.