Thursday, September 21, 2017

Government needs to better inform the people

Last weekend, nearly 500 representatives of government agencies, politicians, educators, media members, grassroots organisers and ethnic minorities gathered for a three-day forum to assess Myanmar’s democratic transition in Nay Pyi Taw.

It was an amazing experience for all because they had the unique opportunity to listen to and share views with all concerned authorities and stakeholders. Exchanges among the speakers, both local and foreign, and with people in the audience were dynamic and interactive.

Judging from the outcome and reactions, the gathering was extremely useful, allowing all those present to catch up with the latest developments in various aspects of Myanmar society. Officials learned from non-governmental organisations and vice versa what each was up to. Long queues of people in the audience wanting to ask questions from the floor were a good indication of their eagerness to know more about the state of affairs in their country. What was interesting, the most informative questions were directed to government officials.

It is obvious from the forum that the government needs to provide more information to the public in a regular and sustained manner. Listening to senior government officials and senior Tatmadaw officials, the audience can easily realise their shared burden and responsibility to ensure the security and well-being of the country, and that it is moving in the right direction. Notably, this kind of forum is unique within the ASEAN context – only a democratic and free country would allow such a huge gathering with dissenting viewpoints.

For the government to impart facts and information in a timely manner requires a media strategy that enables concerned officials to provide facts and the latest developments to a vibrant mass media in this country. So far, the government has not yet fully utilised the free and independent media.

For instance, since the National League for Democracy came to power last April, facts and information about the government’s overall development programs have not reached a wider audience. That helps explain why the general public does not have a complete picture of their government’s performance. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given numerous speeches informing the public about the challenges facing her government. Her twin objective of tackling peace and development simultaneously is the right pathway to much-needed long-term stability and prosperity. But the lack of facts and information about her efforts and those of other stakeholders has made any reporting and assessment of the NLD-led government inadequate.

Effective media strategies are urgently needed. Comprehensive and accurate reports about the latest developments and situation in the country can be done only through mutual trust between newsmakers and reporters. Access to information and the on-the-ground conditions would also help to increase understanding and prevent misinformation.

Since 2011, Myanmar has opened all doors to the international community and has quickly transformed its much-tainted image and profile to a must-see, much-visited country in this part of the world. More trust and proper government-media engagement, based on professionalism, would benefit the public at large through a proliferation of facts and information.

A partnership with the media is necessary if Myanmar wants to promote its national narratives. In the absence of local reports and analysis, outside narratives – through the widespread use of social media – will dominate the discourse. As a democracy with ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, Myanmar must give the media a greater role to shape national vision and narratives.