After almost 50 years of dictatorship Myanmar is moving towards democracy and the country's media landscape is undergoing significant changes. At a conference in Yangon experts discussed challenges and opportunities.
When censorship was lifted in summer 2012, journalists in Myanmar and experts across the world said it marked the beginning of a new media landscape. The question now is how to proceed.
At a conference in Yangon some 260 media makers, politicians, representatives of international media development organizations and civil society discussed strategies for a new Myanmar media system.
DW Akademie Director Gerda Meuer attended the conference and says there's been a profound change in awareness. "Media in Myanmar are now regarded as part of society, as a sector that works in society’s interest. However," she points out, "it requires a new approach."
In May this year DW Akademie began consulting with the state’s radio and television broadcaster, MRTV. The aim is to transform the service into a public broadcaster. While DW Akademie experts are advising managers and promoting organization development, Britain's BBC Media Action and Denmark’s International Media Support (IMS) are organizing trainings for television and radio journalists who once worked for the state. It provides an example of how effective support can be if it is well coordinated among various international organizations.
"Journalists and managers have a great interest in editorial independence", says DW Akademie project manager and country coordinator Patrick Benning, who is currently based in Myanmar. "People are highly motivated to work with the reforms, even if our ideas can make a considerable impact." Gerda Meuer emphasizes the need for patience. "After 50 years of dictatorship things are not going to change overnight." This is not about imposing western solutions, she says. "Myanmar has to find its own way, and we need to support it in this."
Pushing for a national journalism academy
Since April 1, 2013, and for the first time in decades, private daily newspapers are available. Publishers are in dire need of journalists but these are in short supply: young journalists are rare and so are training opportunities. As a result, DW Akademie is pushing for a national journalism academy. Yangon University's run-down journalism institute could provide a starting point and be redesigned, says Gerda Meuer, or an entirely new academy could emerge. "No decision has been made yet, but the time is right for a project like this."
Another area where DW Akademie could become active stems from a broadcasting law being drafted for radio and television. It sees, among other things, the issuing of licenses for community radios. While this could offer exciting prospects for journalists, it would also require them to become aware of their responsibilities in a country plagued by ethnic conflicts.
Over the last two years all major international donor organizations have become active in Myanmar – not surprisingly, given that the country borders on China and is thus of great geopolitical interest to the West. "Myanmar," adds Gerda Meuer, "is also one of the only countries where democracy has been "decreed" from the top down. This makes things all the more fascinating."
Critics often accuse Myanmar's government of only introducing reforms that can be quickly annulled. DW Akademie's Director sees things differently. "At this point", says Gerda Meuer, "I don’t see any signs of Myanmar returning to the old days of dictatorship."