Suu Kyi to media: Greater freedom demands greater responsibility
YANGON, Myanmar – “Greater freedom demands greater responsibility and this freedom is not to be misused,” Nobel Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told an audience of local and international media at the East-West Center luncheon on Sunday, March 9.
Launching East-West Center’s international media conference – with the theme "Challenges of a Free Press" – Suu Kyi described the importance of Myanmar’s emerging free press in a country undergoing political transition. (READ: Forward, back goes Myanmar's transition)
“What we are trying to do is not to establish democracy but to build up a democratic culture and there a free and responsible press has an extremely important part to play. One of the greatest changes that have come about in this country in the last 3 years is the freedom of the press. Many people have talked about the amazing changes that have taken place in this country. These changes have not all been that great or amazing but there is greater freedom of the press,” Suu Kyi explained.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader, has come to symbolize the struggle of Burma’s people to be free. She spent more than 15 years in detention and was released from her third period of detention on November 13, 2010. When an amendment to the Myanmar Constitution was drafted and adopted in 2008, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, participated in the by-elections held in April 2012. Her party's landslide victory in the by-elections secured Myanmar's democratization and her membership in the Parliament.
Suu Kyi said democracy is not a system that gives out unlimited rights, but one that calls for responsibilities that must be harnessed.
“The press must teach us to understand what democratic responsibilities are by themselves exercising the responsibility. You must never separate freedom from responsibility. This applies to the media and the press. Without a free press we cannot really lay the foundations of a democracy,” she said.
Censorship on printed works was lifted at the end of 2012 in Myanmar. However, while the move was welcomed, journalists say the country has still got a long way to go before the press is completely free.
“We do no have the kind of laws that will promote a free press. We don’t have enough media responsibility either,” said Suu Kyi.
Radio and television licenses have not yet been liberalized and access to government figures and information remains almost impossible.
Threats, lack of training
Journalists are still suffering from intimidation tactics and constantly face arrest. Private citizens and journalists are brought to court. (READ: Myanmar: Prison, parliament and the Internet)
Ma Khine was the first journalist to be convicted since censorship was lifted. She was convicted of trespassing, using abusive language and defamation in connection with the corruption story and after one and a half months’ pre-trial detention was sentenced to five months behind bars, with two months to be served concurrently. She was reporting on a legal dispute between a movie distributor and a movie rental shop owner over the alleged distribution of pirated movies.
More recently, the arrest of 5 journalists raised concerns that the government was continuing to clamp down on the local press. Four reporters and the chief executive of a Yangon-based private weekly newspaper, Unity Journal, were arrested for publishing a story on the construction of a weapons factory in central Myanmar. According to Myanmar government officials the story was especially harmful because it alleged that chemical weapons were being produced at the facility, a claim the government dismissed as baseless.
Press watchdogs, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned the arrests and called for the journalists' immediate release. According to the group, the incident highlights the need for "meaningful legal reform" in the country.
Suu Kyi said one of the main issues facing the progression of the local media scene is a lack of training.
“Journalists here need training. For example, there are very few specialist journalists. Newspapers would have big news correspondents; sports correspondents etc but we don’t have that kind of system in the country yet. The potential is there,” she said.
While Myanmar still has a long way to go before press freedom reaches the level of neighboring Asian countries such as the Philippines, a burgeoning media industry and active voices among local journalists means that it is well on its way. - Rappler.com