MANDALAY—In an apparent snub to Myanmar’s media, the chief minister of Mandalay Region said on Friday that he only knew of three pillars of democracy—the legislature, the administrative branch and the judiciary—prompting criticism from the country’s media organizations.
The news media are often collectively referred to as the “Fourth Estate” for their critical role in monitoring the political process.
Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung made the remarks while attending a meeting organized by the Myanmar Press Council in Mandalay on Friday. The event focused on ways to improve cooperation between the media and the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of government.
Speaking to journalists after the morning session of the event, however, the chief minister said there are only three pillars in the country’s Constitution.
“I want the media to be the fourth pillar. But I have to question if the media in Myanmar now are worthy of being the fourth pillar? In the Constitution, there are only three pillars—legislative, administrative and judicial,” U Zaw Myint Maung said.
He said the concept of the fourth pillar of democracy is derived from the international community, and insisted there was no such fourth pillar in Myanmar.
“Internationally, journalists describe the media as the fourth pillar. Some even say the media is the fifth pillar, but [Burmese Journalists] describe themselves as the fourth pillar. But who’s to say whether the media in Myanmar have become the fourth pillar?” the chief minister said.
He said he respected journalists’ right to information, their right to publish that information, and their right to safety, but added that they need to work ethically. It is important that the facts and information they publish is genuine, he said. He also lectured journalists on the need not to color news stories with their opinions, while condemning what he said was a lack of professionalism on the part of some journalists.
“The media and journalists have ethics. We accept their right to information. There is also [a concern for the] safety of journalists, and we understand that. But the journalists need to follow ethics. The news and the headlines should not mislead readers; the media must report fair and unbiased news,” he added.
The chief minister’s refusal to acknowledge the media’s role as the fourth pillar of democracy put him at odds with his boss, President U Win Myint, who in his inauguration speech in 2018 urged the public to take the role of the media sector seriously, describing the media as the eyes and ears of the people.
The Upper Myanmar Journalists Organization (UMJO) said it was saddened by the chief minister’s comments, and voiced concerns that they would increase restrictions on freedom of press.
“The words of the chief minister, who is also one of the top leaders of the ruling party, could distort the people’s view of the press. Moreover, freedom of the press will be affected as a consequence, impacting the democratization of the country,” said Ko Naing Lin Oo, a member of the Mandalay-based UMJO.
“Moreover, he just came to give a speech and left; he did not take time to listen to journalists’ comments. We are afraid our message to create better cooperation between journalists and the other three pillars did not get through,” he said.
Friday’s event was intended to discuss ways of improving cooperation between each of the four pillars of democracy.
Ko Kyaw Zwa Min, the secretary of the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), which organized the meeting, said the chief minister’s comments showed that he is not very familiar with the media, or the Media Law.
“His comments clearly show that he is not familiar with the media. One provision of the Media Law, which was enacted by the Union Parliament, states that the media stands as the Fourth Estate of democracy,” Ko Kyaw Zwa Min said.
“Though he said there’s no fourth pillar in the country, we will not stop what we are doing [to promote] freedom of the press, the right to information and the safety of journalists,” he said.