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Thai journalists need unity shown in Myanmar

Publication Date : 22-07-2014


Most people in Thailand have prided themselves for superiority over those in Myanmar, the poorest country in the region.

But like it or not, Myanmar has shown a big progress in one area that Thailand will need to catch up - the integrity and strengths among journalists.

Developments in the news industry in Thailand have been watched closely by journalists in Myanmar. Well, the latest two episodes would not be an exception. One concerns a leaked report by a big corporation that specified monthly pays to some senior editors in return for favours. The other is about the National Council for Peace and Order's latest announcement that apparently aims to put more control on the media.

The first episode is indeed humiliating, if proved true.

The report named senior editors on the payroll, some receiving over 100,000 baht (US$3,000) a month, in return for favours to send reporters to cover press conferences or other events by the company, or to block negative reports against the company.

In the Thai culture when sometimes gifts are a token of respect, it is not unusual to see corporate PR officers in newsroom, delivering gifts. What we could do is ensure that our reports are fact-based and the reporting routine is influenced by those special treatments. I have to admit that a sponsored trip to a luxury hotel in Hua Hin, with a chauffeured ride, good food plus spa service, how many reporters would dare to say bad things about the property?

Yet, cash payments are beyond imagination and it is self-destructive given that Thailand's news industry has welcomed many new faces. If the report is proved true and wrongdoers are not punished, all would assume that such is alright.

But what surprised me the most is a Facebook posting by a senior reporter, attacking one for being unusually rich with a hint that there is a possible link with the company in question, when the probe is not yet finished. Many posted comments, mostly in negative tone. Instead of focusing on ethics, the posting was too personal.

The episode infringes public trust which ensures press freedom, at the time when there are threats to the freedom. The latest is the NCPO's latest order announced late Friday.

Some journalists cried foul over the order "not to criticise NCPO or relevant individuals". A wire agency used the word "gag" to describe the order. Some said this is the biggest interference and certainly, to those closely observing the situation in Myanmar, it reminds them of the suppression there when the junta was in power.

Even with the establishment of the quasi-civilian government there, reporters in Myanmar have witnessed intimidation.

It started with the 3-month jail sentence delivered last December for Eleven Media's reporter, Khine Khine Aye Cho, known by her pen name Ma Khine. She was jailed for defamation, trespass and use of abusive language, during her coverage of a farmer's complaint on land grabbing.

That was followed by the 1-year imprisonment sentence for Zaw Pe, a reporter of Democracy Voice of Burma (DVB). He was found guilty of charges of "trespassing" and "disturbing a civil servant on duty" while covering a story on a scholarship.

But the biggest shock just arrived last month when four reporters of Unity Journal along with its CEO were sentenced 10-year jail with hard labour, for a report on a weapons factory. Their lawyers complained about the speedy prosecution.

Prior to that, it was reported that some editors of daily newspapers were summoned, as the police wanted to know why they continued with the money-losing daily papers.

The Unity Journal case unleashed the intensifying anger by Myanmar journalists. Some 50 recently joined a silent protest in front of Myanmar Peace Centre, where President Thein Sein was expected for an event. Some of them are charged for staging a protest without permission, and Ray Keh from Mizzima news agency was fined Ks 20,000 last week for participating the protest.

"I'm happy even to accept a prison term," said Ray Keh.

Obviously, these reporters are fighting to safeguard their freedom, with strong backing from international organisations like Reporters Without Borders and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). They are ready to fight for peer journalists, regardless of their company banners.

Comparatively, they are living in a very poor condition. At most offices, internet speed is low while most of them have to access the internet through their mobile phones, when their monthly pay is way below Thai journalists'.

It remains to be seen how Thai journalists would do to safeguard their integrity and freedom. Some in social media just asked if we would be as tough as Myanmar journalists. I obvious have no idea.


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