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Press Freedom Mission to Myanmar Calls For Media Independence

An international delegation from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), have gone to Myanmar to call on the country's authorities to back reforms that will allow independent media to flourish.

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During a four-day fact-finding mission to Yangon between 29 May and 1 June, the delegation met with media professionals, members of the Interim Press Council, and international development experts to gauge the effectiveness of recent media reforms on press independence.

"There is cautious optimism about opportunities for media reform," said Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, "But nothing is guaranteed unless government steps back and gives journalists and media leaders the freedom they need to create a media space that will deliver independent journalism and media pluralism."

The ending of pre-publication censorship in August 2012 has given editors and publishers unprecedented levels of freedom. The return of private daily newspapers on 1 April 2013 also demonstrated opportunity for media freedom.

However, the delegation found that more needs to be done to level the playing field between state and private media, including implementing legal reforms that will strengthen pluralism and set the future tone for the country's professional media environment.

Self-censorship is also widely practiced, with the effects of 50 years of military rule still being felt in the general media culture. The delegation also heard criticisms regarding coverage of the recent sectarian violence, with elements of the media accused of manipulation and lacking objectivity.

WAN-IFRA and the EJN recommends that government, civil society, the media profession and international organisations work together to ensure:

- The removal of any legislation that would have the effect of licensing the written press;

- The establishment of a fully independent, functioning Press Council;

- More investment in training across editorial, marketing and business departments of independent media houses to increase professional standards, capacity and sustainability;

- The establishment of an efficient, vibrant and sustainable media economy.

WAN-IFRA and the EJN have committed to work together with other organisations to help build a culture of professionalism across all levels and all platforms of the Myanmar media.

"The transition to democracy in Myanmar is set to be a long process," said Andrew Heslop, WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Editor. "But the sooner a solid legal framework can be established that protects a free, independent media, the better prepared the country's press will be to help steer this democratic change on behalf of the Myanmar people."

The mission to Myanmar preceded the just completed World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, which drew more than 1,500 publishers, chief editors and other news professionals to Bangkok, Thailand, this week. In a press freedom resolution ratified by WAN-IFRA during the events, the world's media reaffirmed its call for the removal of all restrictions on journalism and the promotion of a well-regulated, transparent, accountable media environment in Myanmar.

www.wan-ifra.org

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