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Meet the press: hints of change as Yangon govt calls weekly conference

By San Oo
May 16 - 22, 2011

JOURNALISTS have welcomed the Yangon Region government’s pledge to hold a weekly press conference, expressing optimism that it would lead to greater transparency and openness.

U Nyan Tun Oo, regional minister for education, health, foreign affairs and immigration, informed journalists of the government’s intention at a press conference on May 10 in the Yangon Region Hluttaw compound in Dagon township.

“The media has to mediate between the people and our government. The media lets us know the true situation of the people and also lets the people know the works that our government is doing for the benefits of the people. But media has to do this without bias. We won’t restrict the news and we will let you know everything we are doing,” U Nyan Tun Oo said.

Mg Wuntha, a veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of political affairs journal Pyithu Khit, said he was “so pleased to hear” about the government’s decision, adding that it showed the government recognised the important role independent media plays in a democratic society.

“The government can communicate with the people through the media. It is pleasing to know that they accept the fact that the media represents the voices of the people. And it is also an essential step in recognising the media as the fourth pillar [of democracy], as President [U Thein Sein] mentioned in one of his speeches,” he said.

Ko Arr Man, an executive editor at 7-Day News who also attended the press meeting, described the government’s decision as “a good start”.

“The duty of journalists is to act as a link between the government and the people. The regional government’s decision to meet with the journalists regularly will make our work more convenient. In the past, we didn’t have the chance to deal with the government directly,” he said.

“This decision … can help to increase transparency and reduce corruption.”

The press conference was the first official meeting of regional government ministers and the media representatives since the State Peace and Development Council was officially dissolved and the new government sworn in on March 30.

U Khin Maung Tun, head of the Yangon Region Administration Office, also attended the meeting and briefed journalists on government projects, which range from regional development tasks to fighting corruption.

“Step by step we will make Yangon Region more developed, as per the policy of the union government. Some things can be done right away but it will take time for some other things to be done,” U Nyan Tun Oo said.

U Nyan Tun Oo advised journalists to submit their questions prior to the weekly meeting to enable his office to prepare answers in consultation with the relevant departments.

“If you ask about works related to departments other than that which I am responsible for I have to work with other ministers to answers your questions. So send the questions in advance to my office anytime and I will answer it at the meeting the next week,” he said.

U Nyan Tun Oo said the journalists can write anything as long as it does not harm the unity of the nation.

“There is no reason for you not to write freely as long as it does not damage the government. News that would harm the security and people will not be allowed. The relevant press department will decide on that matter,” he said.

U Khin Maung Tun distributed phone and fax numbers of his office so journalists could send questions and also collected the names and phone numbers of the journalists who attended.

Mg Wuntha said this practice was common in democratic countries, where governments work to establish good relations with the media.

“If the media is able to have direct contact with the government, they can use that to advocate or work for the needs of all the people in the country.”