(Commentary) – Sweden, one of three Scandinavian donors (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), is helping to fund media development in Burma and is also supporting the “Conference on Media Development in Myanmar” that is now underway in Rangoon.
Sweden and Burma have one important point in common. The constitutions of both countries strongly emphasis freedom of expression and freedom to publish. In Burma, article 354 in the Constitution states that every citizen shall be at liberty to exercise the right to freely express and publish their convictions and opinions. Two of the four pillars of the Swedish Constitution are also about freedom of expression – one concerns the freedom of expression and the other the freedom to publish.
It is thus not surprising that Sweden and Sida place a strong emphasis on media development in Burma. Clearly, now that civic space is opening up, there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done to support the emergence of a free, independent and sustainable media sector in Burma. We have already given support inside and outside the country to journalistic workshops that will help to improve reporting skills.
The president of Burma stated in his speech on March 1 that the formation of a National Press Council is underway in order that the media sector, the fourth estate, can ensure liberty and accountability with a check and balance system in accord with democratic practices. This is in line with a proud tradition of press freedom in Burma. In the 19th century King Mondon introduced the first media law that gave the press the right to publish freely.
Sida plans to give strong support to achieve the president’s vision of media as a real fourth estate that can ensure liberty and accountability. There is a very clear correlation between the level of democracy in a country and the level of media freedom. Media will also have a very important role in the national reconciliation process that is underway with the initial ethnic cease-fire agreements that we hope will lead to a real peace agreement, to lay the foundation for improved economic and social conditions for all people in Burma.
The media conference marks a new chapter in supporting this development. Important issues of media as a platform for democratic discourse, new media legislation, media business sustainability and media professionalism will be debated. We hope that the collective wisdom of this conference can be transformed into a modern media law, ensuring a free media, and that capacity building in the form of more professional training programs will soon start on a larger scale, benefiting all the people of Burma.
Bengt Ekman is the country manager of the Swedish International development Cooperation Agency (Sida).