Myanmar takes lead role in ASEAN
Former military state Myanmar takes the helm of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this month.

YANGON, Myanmar – Former military state Myanmar takes the helm of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this month.
The international community applauds its steps to greater democracy but the changes are incomplete and the challenges great.
Ayee Macaraig reports.

It’s a new dawn for Myanmar.
The former pariah state is opening up to the world.
The country also known as Burma steps into the global stage as it symbolically accepts chairmanship of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations for 2014.
The honor is part of international recognition of political and economic reforms after 50 years of brutal military rule.
Besides the release of political prisoners like democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the major changes is in media.
Private newspapers abound in the former capital, Yangon, a sight unseen for decades until censorship was abolished last year.
Journalists like Kyaw Zwa Moe are finally back home.
A former political prisoner, he was in exile in Thailand for 13 years.
He says while the changes in his country are laudable, they are premature.

We haven’t got any government of the people. The government is not for the people, not of the people. So this government is just comprised of former military generals. They just changed their costumes. That is their reality.

Journalists say the former generals are still stuck in their old mindset.
Media groups rally against a flurry of bills regulating print and broadcast outlets.
The bills require news organizations to apply for licenses, and impose heavy penalties for violating vague rules.

They have worry if the media, they give the total freedom of expression, they will write everything, so they are worried like that. So that’s why they try to indirectly control to make the several laws like spider. So if one leg can’t catch, another leg will catch.

Journalists say their industry reflects the uncertainty in the transition process.
Myanmar’s leadership of ASEAN comes at a time ethnic violence worsens and as politicians gear up for the 2015 presidential polls.
The country also struggles to fix poor infrastructure, power outages, and its broken education system.
The challenges are great but journalists see they have a role to play.

You have to be more critical. We have been seeing a lot of mismanagement not only in government but also in the other governments, organizations, associations and we have to be more critical of our own people, their behavior, mentality as well.

The future is unclear but Kyaw Zwa Moe and his fellow journalists are committed to ensure their country will no longer return to its dark past.
The international community hails the media gold rush here in the golden land.
But with legal and political uncertainty, journalists and observers say there’s still a long way to go before they achieve a truly free press.
They say the transition to democracy is a work too fragile to be left to generals-turned-politicians.
Ayee Macaraig, Rappler, Yangon, Myanmar. –

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