Fifth Annual Ethnic Media Conference Convenes in Loikaw

By Nyein Nyein 26 June 2017

LOIKAW, Karenni State — An ethnic media conference eyeing the development of an official ethnic media policy convened in Karenni (Kayah) State’s capital of Loikaw on Monday.

During the three-day event, nearly 100 journalists from across the country will discuss ethnic media policy frameworks and challenges, as well as the promotion of the rights of women journalists and the role of ethnic media in Myanmar’s political transition, peace process, and the building of a federal Union.

In his opening address, Nai Kasauh Mon, executive director of ethnic media coalition Burma News International (BNI) and chief editor of the Mon News Agency, urged the participants to provide input on a future ethnic media policy as well as the sustainability of their media outlets, which have a smaller circulation than larger media in central Myanmar.

“At this fifth session, we will discuss the formulation of a more comprehensive and coherent ethnic media policy. But such a policy won’t immediately be able to be drafted at this conference. At the very least, we’ll need many more recommendations,” Nai Kasauh Mon told The Irrawaddy.

The ethnic media conference is in its fifth year. Previous sessions were respectively held in Mon State’s Moulmein (Mawlamyine), Shan State’s Taunggyi, Chin State’s Hakha and Arakan State’s Mrauk U since 2013. Those conferences focused on networking between ethnic media outlets and their role in the peace process.

The government’s information minister U Pe Myint also addressed the ethnic media conference, saying that media would develop alongside Myanmar’s political transition.

He admitted that he was aware that his ministry needed to do much more to promote the development of ethnic media.

“We have plans for the development of ethnic news media and literature. We have an obligation to implement these two things. Therefore we broadcast news on TV and radio in ethnic languages, and we also publish supplements in ethnic languages in newspapers.  But we haven’t done enough. We know that much remains to be done,” said U Pe Myint.

Nan Paw Gay, chief editor of the Karen Information Centre (KIC)​ said that challenges for ethnic media had continued in different forms since the political transition, but that a shortage of human capacity, and financial and technical restrictions remain common issues throughout the country.

“These problems have persisted, though we have tried to solve them. So, I want ethnic media to be given a certain extent of no-strings-attached assistance, either by the state government or Parliament or the Union government, without [editorial] independence restricted,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Security is one of the concerns for journalists in ethnic areas, said Say Reh Soe, chief editor of Kantarawaddy Times, a local ethnic media outlet based in Loikaw.

“As there are many armed groups in Kayah State, tensions between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organizations remain. So it is quite sensitive for reporters to gather news in the areas controlled by either group. [The authorities] designate areas as ‘black’ and ‘brown’ depending on security levels,” he explained, a reference to zones controlled by ethnic armed organizations—designated as black—and areas of contested control between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed groups—brown. “It is a challenge for the security of reporters to gather news in those areas,” he explained.

Ethnic media outlets have a better understanding of the situations of their respective areas, and therefore could work in cooperation with Yangon-based media to reach a wider audience and to gain greater financial returns in order to ensure their sustainability, suggested media trainer U Myo Tha Htet of Internews.

“The journalistic standards of ethnic media have improved,” he said. “So, at this point, we’ll seek ways in which they can get financial returns for their sustainability,” he added.

U Nay Lin Soe from the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (MILI), representing persons with disabilities at the conference for the first time, urged the media to write more stories about the abilities of disabled persons both in mainland and ethnic regions.

As a panelist at the conference, he said dignified portrayals of disabled persons, rather than those that describe them as pitiful, would contribute to changes in policies that affect them.

U Nay Lin Soe explained that he hoped that ethnic media, in speaking out about the needs of vulnerable people, would also present the plight of disabled persons from a perspective informed by human rights.

“When [media] present the issues of disabled people, they should not present them from traditional point of views, but from the point of view of fundamental rights in modern times,” he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko