The 3rd Conference on Media Development in Myanmar was held on 18 and 19 September in Yangon with more than 350 participants, marking another key milestone in Myanmar’s media reform. Under the theme ‘Moving towards a Sustainable Media Environment’, government officials, Myanmar Press Council officials, Myanmar Journalist Association members, ethnic media, regional experts, private and state-owned media companies, academia, civil society and international organizations met to take stock and emerge with a set of practical recommendations for further development of Myanmar media.
The Conference took place after three years of on-going changes in Myanmar’s media sector, with the abolition of censorship, the drafting of new media laws, the establishment of an interim press council and the recent re-emergence of Myanmar’s private daily newspapers as some of the many milestones.
“As we already know, media reform is the most important process in President U Thein Sein’s reform.,” said U Ye Htut, Union Minister for Information, at the opening of the Conference. “To implement the reform process we didn’t have enough experience of the role of the media in a democracy. We want to develop a vibrant democracy in our country, which is not possible without citizen participation. For this we depend on the media,” he added.
The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova addressed the Conference via a video message, recognizing the “commitment of the Government to place media reform at the heart of the country’s social, political and economic development”, and seeing this Conference “as a further step towards change and an opportunity to explore, with all stakeholders, the challenges the media sector is facing”. She further emphasized “a way forward through inclusion, dialogue and partnership, including empowering women, young people and all marginalized groups with the skills to exercise their rights”.
The event was organized by the Ministry of Information and the Myanmar Media Development Thematic Working Group (MDTWG) in partnership with UNESCO and International Media Support (IMS), with the support of a wide range of development partners and international and national media groups. It covered topics such as media, peace and conflict, media legislation and regulation, regional media reforms, business of media, public service media, media and good governance, journalism training and education, press council and the complaints mechanism, and election reporting.
During the sessions, the Minister of Information, the Press Council and local media brain-stormed on various challenges and developed consensus on precise action points. Participants emphasized the need for access to information and the passage of laws based on freedom of expression, as well as on policies and programmes which will support wider distribution of newspapers and journals in remote communities, and greater transparency by national and local officials in dealing with the news media.
As the private sector begins to invest more on the media sector, an agenda on how to ensure a fair and competitive business environment was extensively discussed. Capacity development of journalists was identified as among the top priorities in almost all sessions, covering both academic degree and short-term courses. Speakers and participants also proposed parameters in media coverage of the peace process, elections, human rights and other development concerns.
During the conclusion of the Conference, UNESCO’s Head of Office, Sardar Umar Alam, reaffirmed UNESCO’s commitment to continue its leading role in supporting the Government to create a free and safe environment for media and journalists in Myanmar.