Just two years ago, it would have been unimaginable that an event commemorating press freedom could be held in Myanmar, much less, that the Union Minister for Information himself would be speaking at the same event as a political dissident who had spent 20 years in prison for his writings.
On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day was held in Yangon for the second time. In his address, Union Minister for Information, U Aung Kyi, noted that independent media and democracy go hand in hand. “Unlike in the past, when the media was used to promote propaganda, persuasion and education, the role of the media (in Myanmar) had dramatically changed, such as in serving as watchdog against the government, safeguarding the rights of individuals, enlightening the public to make it capable of focusing less on the individual and more on the welfare of society and acting as an interface between the citizens and the Government.”
The recipient of the 2001 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award, U Win Tin, however, remarked that as long as restrictions and controls on the media remained, the press would have to continue its struggle for freedom. U Win Tin, himself journalist, had spent 20 years in prison for his writings. He was unable to personally accept the award in 2001 as he was still in prison. Being invited to speak at this event, he said that it made him feel that he had won the award for the second time.
The Joint message of the Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova, was read out by the Head of Office of UNESCO Myanmar, Mr. Sardar Umar Alam. Other speakers were, U Ko Ko, Vice President of the Myanmar Journalists Association and U Kyaw Min Swe, the Secretary of the Provisional Myanmar Press Council. UNESCO Media Development Specialist, Mr. Ramon R. Tuazon gave an overview of Myanmar News Media: Past, Present and Future.
National Information Officer Aye Win, of the UN Information Centre Yangon, was Master of Ceremonies and translated for U Win Tin. In his interview with Swedish Public Radio, he noted that Myanmar’s media freedoms had come a long way from past censorship and restrictions, but still had a long way to go.
According to the World Press Freedom Index for 2013, Myanmar has risen sharply as compared with the previous year’s Index.