Nadine Wojcik experiences the new freedoms, surprising openness and pressing questions.
It's all changed. Just months ago Burmese journalists were still handing in their reports to the censors. But censorship was dropped in August 2012 and journalists now have to decide themselves what to publish. Some aren't sure whether they can trust the government's new approach. Are they really free to criticize or do they have to reckon with repressions?
I recently spent a week in Yangon together with six other German journalists to discuss the situation with Burmese colleagues. It was part of DW Akademie's "Myanmar Media Dialogue". Nothing special, you might think, but it was. For the first time German and Burmese journalists were openly talking about the challenges of a free media. And more importantly, it was the first time members from Burmese state television were sitting together with TV journalists from the regime's former public enemy, the underground channel "Democratic Voice of Burma". One of the journalists had been released from prison that spring, another had recently returned after 20 years in exile.
I was surprised by the openness of my Burmese colleagues. It's been just a matter of months since they've been able to freely express their opinions and they're taking full advantage of it. We visited the state broadcaster's head office together, for example. The broadcaster isn't located in Yangon, where events are happening, but instead close to the capital, Naypyidaw. It was a six-hour bus ride to the modern broadcasting house set in the middle of nowhere. Beehives were hanging from the rain pipes in the courtyard. "We're trapped here, just like those bees," joked one of the broadcasting staff and we all laughed. "Our employees aren't journalists," said the editor in chief more seriously, "so now they desperately need to learn the journalistic basics." I was surprised to learn that television and radio news had until recently been produced by the respective ministries. Broadcasting staff had simply been administrators.
The longer we spent together, the more pressing the questions became. "How often do you go to protests?" asked one Burmese radio colleague. I had to admit that I couldn't remember the last time I'd taken part in one. He looked disappointed. "I thought that in democratic societies people always used the right to freely express their opinions."
Radio journalist Nadine Wojcik took part in DW Akademie's "Myanmar Media Dialogue" held in November 2012. It brought together seven German and seven Burmese journalists. Wojcik is a freelance reporter for public broadcasting and since 2012 is also DW Akademie's online editor and responsible for the Akademie's website.