IFJ Blog: Myanmar Journalists Unions Seek To Protect, Strengthen and Unite

The constant wet season downpours that drenched Yangon did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 20 journalists who turned up for the International Federation of Journalists leadership and managing unions training this week.

The 20 journalists attended the two-day course on behalf of the five organizations currently responsible for looking after the interests of Myanmar’s poets, writers, publishers and journalists.

In recent months Myanmar has become a hard place to be a journalist, poet or writer.

International human rights groups have warned that the country’s fledgling democratic reforms have stalled. New media laws have choked the initial promise of a free press, journalists have been killed and others jailed for their reporting. In its 2015 report, Attacks on the Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Burma, as “among the top 10 worst jailers of journalists worldwide.”

The 20 journalists attending the IFJ training held at the offices of Myanmar’s Journalist Association reflected these concerns. Constant themes that echoed throughout the two-day training were, freedom of expression, the right to government information, protection of journalists, amend existing media laws to guarantee journalists rights and the safety of journalists.

The MJA’s secretary 1, Myo Min Htike, underlined the importance of the IFJ training.

“Freedom of expression is a critical issues for our members. Journalists being sued, detained, threaten and intimidated are of great concern to all journalists and their respective organizations.”

The five media groups represented at attending the training were the Myanmar Press Council, Myanmar Journalists Union, Myanmar Journalists Network, Myanmar Journalists Association and Pen Burma.

Ye Wint Hlaing, project manager with the Myanmar Press Council said his organization would have elections in August that would go some way to strengthen journalists’ status within his organization.

“There is a view that we don’t represent all journalists. After the elections we will change our name to the Myanmar Media Council and the new organization will have a board of 27 – 24 will be journalists and three will represent the President’s office and one each from the upper and lower houses [parliament].”

Yin Yin Thein Naba was a published author for 15 years until she was sued after writing a piece on abduction.

“After I was sued I decided the journalist union offered me better protection. I have been a journalist for five years.”

Throughout the training, Yin Yin stressed that Myanmar’s journalists had to become stronger and united.

“We can’t write freely about many issues, freedom of expression is important. We need a stronger union to be established if we are to protect our industry. If we do this we are stating our unity and we need a stronger voice, if we are to have industrial power.”

Han Zaw from Pen Myanmar has taken his love of literature into rural villages and townships to keep it alive.

“After living with censorship for more than 50 years, people do not know what to trust anymore. We run campaigns in the community where writers, poets and publishers hold forums so people can debate matters related to literature and freedom of expression.”

Han Zaw explained that every month his organization runs workshops for writers, essayists, novelists, short story writers and poets.

“We also run a Peace Prize for short stories and poetry. We have committees set-up for writers – women and political prisoners.”

The MJA’s, Myo Min Htike said that during the leadership training the groups “realized that what we have to do in this transition period is put in place a strong system to protect journalists. After this training we expect we expect to form a federation of journalists, this will include all the organizations. This is an important step for journalists. We will now take it our regional members.”

The IFJ trainer, Chris Warren said that this group was strong and showed great enthusiasm.

“They nailed the issues important to journalists unions, safety, freedom of expression, transparency, accountability to members. I enjoyed the spirit that the group showed over the two days.”

 By Phil Thornton