ျမန္မာတုိင္းမ္ အင္တာနက္ စာမ်က္ႏွာဧရာ၀တီအယ္ဒီတာေအာင္ေဇာ္ နဲ႔ အင္တာဗ်ဴးကုိ ျမန္မာတုိင္းမ္ဂ်ာနယ္ အဂၤလိပ္ပုိင္းမွာ ေဖာ္ျပခြင့္ ရဖုိ႔ စာေပစိစစ္ေရးုကုိ ၂ ႀကိမ္ တင္ခ့ဲပါတယ္။
စာေပစိစစ္ေရးအဖဲြ႔က အင္တာဗ်ဴးတခုလုံးကုိ ၂ ႀကိမ္တုိင္တုိင္ ပယ္ခ်လုိက္ၿပီး ပယ္ခ်တ့ဲ အေၾကာင္းရင္းကုိ ရွင္းျပျခင္းမရိွဘူးလုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။
သိပ္မၾကာေသးခင္ကပဲ Weekly Eleven ဂ်ာနယ္မွာ မွာ ဧရာ၀တီအယ္ဒီတာေအာင္ေဇာ္ နဲ႔ အင္တာဗ်ဴး ေဖာ္ျပခ့ဲျပီးပါျပီ။
စာေပစိစစ္ေရးဌာနကုိ ဖ်က္သိမ္းသင့္ျပီ လုိ႔ မၾကာေသးမီကပဲ စာေပစိစစ္ေရးအဖဲြ႔ ဒုတိယအႀကီးအကဲက RFA အသံလႊင့္ဌာနနဲ႔ ေမးျမန္းခန္းမွာ ေျပာၾကားသြားပါေသးတယ္။
စာေပစိစစ္ေရးက ပယ္ခ်လုိက္တ့ဲ အင္တာဗ်ဴးတခုလုံးကုိ ဒီမွာ ဖတ္ရႈႏုိင္ပါျပီ။
What do you think of the government’s policy to allow exiled reporters to return to Burma and gather news and information? Is it better and freer? What else needs to be done? What is your view of the current government’s take on media? Do you feel there is more freedom? Is there any chance that you will come back here?
I think that local media can report more about political issues and that there is a greater feeling of openness among media people inside the country. This is a good sign, but at the same time, the scope of the reporting inside Burma is still very restricted. Journalists have to keep pushing the envelope and expanding into new areas.
For example, journalists should be able to report about large-scale corruption, or about what is happening in ethnic regions. Investigative reporting is still not possible, and writing about military offensives or the role of the military in Burmese politics is also off limits. There should also be more transparent business reporting, since Burma is going to open up in the future and integrate into the international community.
I think it is especially encouraging that some senior officials at the press censorship board recently said that censorship is unnecessary. This is long overdue, because we have to restore press freedom in Burma if we want to join the rest of the world. I am encouraged to see some changes and more openness in Burmese media and I welcome all these steps.
The Irrawaddy’s goal is to return to Burma when the country has opened up and there is press freedom. So we are quite excited to see the current changes in the country. We share the sense of hope that many people in Burma feel right now. We are especially happy about the fact that the government has lifted the ban on our website, and that we are getting more and more visitors to our site from inside Burma. Since the ban was lifted, the number of visitors to our site from Burma has increased dramatically.
I don’t know why I keep talking about King Mindon, the penultimate monarch of Burma, but he often comes to mind these days whenever I think about our country’s past and future.
In 1875, the Yadanabon Naypyidaw newspaper was established with his blessings. He also introduced Burma's first ever press law, in which he famously declared: “If I do wrong, write about me. If the queens do wrong, write about them. If my sons and my daughters do wrong, write about them. If the judges and mayors do wrong, write about them. No one shall take action against the journals for writing the truth. They shall go in and out of the palace freely.”
It is amazing to think that we once had such a forward-looking ruler, and sad to realize how far we've fallen behind since those days, especially in the past 50 years. Until the 1960s, Burma enjoyed a free and lively press—but then the coup in 1962 brought an end to that, and for the past half century, the country has been plunged in darkness.
Today, Burma is regarded internationally as an enemy of the press. If the government is serious about reform, it should release all journalists, reporters and bloggers now behind bars. It must also abolish the censorship board and help journalists improve their skills. There should also be a committee to protect press freedom and journalists in Burma. We should also restore the Burma Journalists' Association, which ceased to exist after the coup in 1962.
The president has began to refer to political prisoners, whereas the previous government didn’t acknowledge their existence. What do you think about this? And what is your view on the disputed numbers of political prisoners.
There is no doubt that Burma has political prisoners who have been kept in appalling conditions. It is welcome news that government-sponsored National Human Rights Commission has called for the release of prisoners of conscience. This is a small step.
The number of political prisoners is disputed because no independent organization has been given access to prisons to collect independent data. But we know that many who have been put in prison are there on bogus charges, often for violating the notorious electronics acts, video acts and other laws that allow the authorities to detain a person for as long as they want. If you look at the recent history, you can see how many innocent people have been imprisoned for purely political reasons.
Burma’s former intelligence service and the current Home Affairs Ministry should have accurate figures and should know how many are being kept in prison and on what charges. If they were so inclined, they could easily produce these figures. But as we say in Burmese, it is difficult wake someone up when they are pretending to sleep.
Recently, only a few hundreds political prisoners were released from prisons. But I hope that the government will free all the remaining political detainees in the near future. Burma cannot achieve genuine national reconciliation if political prisoners are kept behind bars.
Do you think the situation in the country is really changing as people wish? Do you think the president is trying to respond to the desires of the people?
Many would like to believe so. The people of Burma were heartened to see U Thein Sein’s meeting with opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I also think U Thein Sein’s decision to suspend the Myitsone Dam boosted the government. Though some think that the decision was hasty and not well thought out, since it didn’t take into account signed contracts and the MoU between two nations—it was more of a reaction to domestic sentiment and a growing campaign against the dam—I think the president cleverly took advantage of this situation to show his teeth to elements in the government who wanted the project to go ahead.
But what about other mega-projects, such as the gas pipeline and railway projects? I don’t think the government will take a similar stand on these, because it can't afford to jeopardize its relations with China any more than it already has.
The meetings between U Aung Kyi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi seemed to be substantive, but the government's policies on many issues are still unclear, and we need to see serious implementation and follow up.
There are many skeptics inside and outside Burma who are still convinced that leopards can’t change their spots, so I think the ball is in the governments’ court. It's up to U Thein Sein to prove the skeptics wrong.
Do you think Burma will soon catch up with Asean?
Burma has huge potential, but after half a century under military domination and a one-party system, it has fallen very far behind the rest of the region.
But we shouldn't just think in terms of playing catch up. Many Asean countries have authoritarian governments, and even though they have made some economic progress, all their rulers want is to maintain the status quo. Burma could do much better than that. With a credible government, rule of law and democracy, we could achieve real and meaningful prosperity—not just a fast-growing GDP. But to achieve that, we need visionary leaders in our country.
What needs to be done to achieve reform?
Many feel that major steps need to be taken. All political prisoners should be released without conditions. I think Burma needs genuine national reconciliation. The ongoing civil war in ethnic regions is a real concern for the whole country. Many people still cannot understand and comprehend what ethnic people want and why they are prepared to fight so long and so hard to achieve it. Without the participation of ethnic minorities in the political transition, I don’t think Burma can achieve peace, stability and prosperity. I also want to see a lifting of sanctions on Burma, and for the country to forge closer ties with the rest of the world, not just one country. But for this to happen, the government will have to undertake major reforms, instead of making token gestures and baby steps. People in Burma should feel more hopeful and should enjoy freedom and peace. They should not live in fear of speaking their minds.
The international community should be cautious and acknowledge any meaningful steps taken by the government, while at the same time asking for more concrete, irreversible reforms. Western governments have said that they will consider relaxing sanctions and restrictions, if genuine changes are going to take place in Burma. It is important to maintain cautious optimism. I hope genuine reform and changes will come to Burma. If not, people in Burma will be hugely disappointed, and this could have serious consequences.
What effect have political developments since March had on the exile community? How will the role of the exile/activist community change and is its influence diminishing?
Exiles will definitely have a role to play, because they have always been working for the sake of the country. We don't live inside Burma because we can't do our work there freely or without facing arrest, but none of us have ever really left our country. The fact that Burma still produces large numbers of refugees and exiles is a testament to how far it still is from achieving real, lasting reforms.
We have to understand the nature of the many different exiled groups. Some political opposition groups and the government in exile are no longer effective. But there are many civil society groups, campaign groups, media groups and local NGOs in exile that are making a real difference in terms of helping Burmese people and working for change in Burma.
I think exiles are watching closely and actively campaigning for real change in Burma. Exiles who live close to Burma are far more pragmatic and understand the situation inside Burma and they have good networks and good connections and are not out of touch. But exiles and ethnic groups should craft their message clearly, to say what kind of change they want to see taking place in Burma. If they can't play this game, if they aren't sophisticated enough to send a clear message, there is a danger they will be marginalized.
Should they return to Myanmar, what role could activist groups play inside the country?
If Burma opens up, many exiles will return home. But at the same time, we can see that many people are still leaving, in search of jobs, security and opportunities, quietly seeking political asylum despite recent hints of change, so it is probably too early to speak of reversing this flow. In the past, many exiles have returned to Burma, including the late Prime Minister U Nu and his cabinet ministers, as well as former members of the “Thirty Comrades” group. They all returned with dignity and contributed to society, so it's not impossible that the same thing can happen again. But at the moment, most exiles remain deeply skeptical about U Thein Sein's invitation to return.
We should also recognize that not everyone is in the same situation. Ethnic minorities, whether they are living inside the country or outside, remain deeply distrustful of the government—and for good reason, after so many decades of oppression. This means that many ethnic people, including leaders, will remain in exile or migrate to third countries rather than return to Burma anytime in the near future. This is a sign of just how far Burma is from resolving the issue of ethnic rights, and this is something that Asean and Western governments and experts cannot comprehend about the situation inside Burma.
The exile media is also sometimes accused of being overly critical of groups operating inside Myanmar. Will this perception, whether right or wrong, hinder the possible return of exiles?
I don't think so. It is the media's job to hold individuals and groups accountable. Whether you are inside or outside the country, it is the nature of the media to be critical. We are nobody's mouthpiece. If the media in Burma really opens up one day, do you think it will be tame and toe the government’s line? I don’t think so.
We recognize that there are different approaches to the country's problems, and don't pretend to have a monopoly on understanding what the country needs. However, we have to do our job, and that means revealing as much as we can about different, well-connected groups inside Burma—not merely to criticize them, but to keep people, including the international community, informed.
As far as our relationship with media groups inside Burma is concerned, I think we have developed a good relationship. Media people inside the country now have a better understanding of the role of exiles, and we exiles have become more aware of their role. We are like two sides of the same coin. We have to report and reveal what they cannot, so we have become partners. People inside Burma still listen to BBC or VOA radio stations.