Suu Kyi Attends World Press Freedom Day Event in Rangoon

By May Sitt Paing 4 May 2015

RANGOON — At an event marking World Press Freedom Day, Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday called on the media to ensure that upcoming elections will be free and fair.

The Nobel laureate and chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) stressed the importance of a responsible and independent press as a means of accurately informing the public and keeping the powerful in check.

“The 2015 election is a very important turning point [for Burma],” she said, speaking at Rangoon’s newly christened Novotel Hotel. “I would like to ask the media to give their best support to make sure these elections are free and fair.”

Suu Kyi said the government has a responsibility to enact media laws that align with international standards, while members of the media have a responsibility to help readers differentiate between fact, rumor and politically or personally motivated fabrications.

Urging journalists to “do their homework,” Suu Kyi added that the media also has the responsibility of educating itself to improve accuracy and uphold journalistic ethics.

Sunday’s event was the fourth time that World Press Freedom Day has been observed in Burma, where media freedoms are still novel and criticism remains of the government’s treatment of the fourth estate.

Media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently ranked Burma as the ninth most censored country in the world, despite advances such as the abolition of pre-publication censorship in late 2012.

Minister of Information Ye Htut, who also attended the event, hit back at claims by international organizations that the country is “backsliding” on press freedom.

“Almost a dozen international organizations publish Burma press freedom indices and reports,” said Ye Htut, “but I don’t consider them complete because they are based on the [the degree of] freedom and don’t reflect news quality and editorial independence.”

The minister reiterated his commitment to establishing a public service media that would serve to inform the population and promote the voices of minorities.

Despite legal reforms related to the press, members of the media expressed concern that Burma’s legal environs do not offer adequate protection for journalists, pointing out that 12 media professionals are currently serving prison sentences and outdated laws are still being used to unfairly target members of the press.

Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network, said that while the country’s nascent media could improve its professional standards, legal action taken against journalists has been disproportionate.

“While reporters need to make sure that facts are true and correct, some of these laws should have been amended many years ago and the judicial system needs to be fair and independent,” Myint Kyaw said, adding that members of the media are “ready to work together with the government” to achieve greater press freedom.

Several prominent media professionals, including members of the Press Council Thiha Saw and Kyaw Min Swe issued statements on Sunday denouncing the government’s treatment of journalists. Lower House lawmaker Khaing Maung Yi, speaking on behalf of the committee on sports, culture and public relations, called on the government to drop all pending legal action against journalists and grant amnesty to those currently serving prison sentences.

Sunday’s event was hosted by the Ministry of Information and was attended by several foreign diplomats and a representative of the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO.