When the army made way for a new government in Myanmar ten years ago, ending decades of military rule that isolated the country, Burmese journalists were among the first to cheer. Many of them, living for years in exile, began to up sticks and move back home. They all hoped that, finally, Myanmar was going to open as democracy was dawning in the country.
Fast forward ten years and all you see are shattered hopes. Following a military coup in early February, the first against a civilian government since 1962, the army took back the power, replacing ministers and arresting Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, a role akin to a head of government.
Political observers expect only the worst. That includes the future of the independent media.
Will the return of the army mean the return of the dark age for Myanmar’s journalism? Will journalists have to return to exile in order to do their job? What can journalists do to be able to report independently and what can others, international groups, donor organizations, foreign media, do to help?
We will address these and many other questions with Sonny Swe, CEO of Frontier Myanmar Weekly Magazine, and Jane McElhone, a journalism and media expert with a long experience in Myanmar and the region, in a discussion moderated by Marius Dragomir.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Jane Madlyn McElhone has been working with Burmese media for the past 15 years and is contributing editor of Myanmar Media in Transition: Legacies, Challenges and Change (ISEAS, 2019). Her areas of expertise include journalism, media development, free expression, grantmaking, human rights and migration.
Sonny Swe is Co-Founder and CEO of Frontier Myanmar, a Yangon-based print and online magazine that covers current affairs and business. He started out as a printer in 1996, and in 2000 co-founded with an Australian partner The Myanmar Times, the first non-government English-language newspaper in the country. At this time, the military régime imposed strict censorship laws, and in 2005 Sonny Swe was sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching those laws. Released under a government amnesty in 2013, he briefly rejoined the Myanmar Times but moved on to become CEO of Mizzima Media Group and eventually, in 2015, set up publishing company Black Knight Media Group, which runs Frontier Myanmar. The magazine has experimented with new methods of reaching out to the audience and creating a community by launching a membership program in February, 2020.
Marius Dragomir (moderator) is the Director of the Center for Media, Data and Society, and Senior Manager at Democracy Institute. He previously worked for the Open Society Foundations (OSF) for over a decade: he has managed the research and policy portfolio of the Program on Independent Journalism (PIJ), formerly the Network Media Program (NMP), in London. He has also been one of the main editors for PIJ’s flagship research and advocacy project, Mapping Digital Media, which became the largest policy research project ever. He was the main writer and editor of OSF’s Television Across Europe, a comparative study of broadcast policies in 20 European countries. He has been advising international organizations including Council of Europe where he serves as a member of the Committee of Experts on Media Environment and Reform, and UNESCO, where he has been sitting on the advisory board of the organization’s World Trends in Media Freedom Project.