After 50 years of strict censorship, journalists in Myanmar are experiencing more freedom. DW Akademie is conducting on-site workshops and in Berlin held a panel discussion on the new media reforms.
"The media landscape in Myanmar is changing quickly and many changes appear to be positive," says DW Akademie director Gerda Meuer. She was recently in Myanmar as part of a delegation headed by Germany's development minister, Dirk Niebel. While impressed by the progress she says, "It's clear that there is an immense need for journalism training."
DW Akademie's media development head, Helmut Osang agrees. He was in Myanmar in February to conduct a workshop and says the journalists there are young and have little or no journalistic experience. But they are, he says, very eager to learn. "We're starting with basic skills - how to conduct an interview, how to tell a story that is relevant to people's lives. One of our primary aims is to encourage journalists to change their focus - away from government interests and towards raising the voice and visibility of the general public."
DW Akademie is one of the first foreign media organizations to offer journalistic training in Myanmar. Five workshops are to be held this year and a long-term training and consulting project is being planned with a local media training center.
For almost 50 years the Myanmese media was suppressed by the military junta. But last March an elected civilian government assumed power. Although backed by the military, the government is introducing political as well as media reforms. Newspapers can now print pictures of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, private radio stations are receiving licenses and the government has announced it will introduce a new media law this year.
"Hungry for information"
These developments were the focus of a recent panel discussion in Berlin. Organized by DW Akademie and the German public broadcaster ARD, the audience included journalists and staff from German ministries and non-governmental organizations. Sitting on the panel together with Helmut Osang were Asia correspondent for the Financial Times Deutschland, Georg Fahrion, and Myanmese journalist Nwet Kay Khine.
Nwet, in her early 30s, writes a column for the weekly Myanmar magazine "The Voice". While censorship has relaxed in areas such as health, sports and children, she said it is still very present in reports on political and economic issues as well as ethnic tensions. "But even there things are changing," she emphasized. "A senior editor advised me to write for the public and not for the censors, and that's what I do. The censors still strike about 10% of what I write, but 90% is now getting through and that's what counts."
Audience members were positive about the developments but also expressed concerns. Were these serious reforms or were they simply there to convince the European Union and United States to drop sanctions? Would a new media law lay the foundation for a truly free media or would journalists feel more pressure to censor themselves?
Nwet Kay Khine is confident that these are serious, long-term reforms. "This is no longer just about censorship or self-censorship. The public is hungry for information and there is a huge demand for a free press. We as journalists now see ourselves as an important change agent."