Full speech of United Nations Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator: World Press Freedom Day 2017

Photo by UNIC Myanmar

3 MAY 2017

Excellency, Union Minister for Information Dr. Pe Myint,

Excellency, the Ambassador of Sweden to Myanmar Mr. Staffan Herrström


Dear Media colleagues and colleagues from the UN,

Mingalabar Shin and a very good morning to you all.

It’s an honour for me to read to you the UN Secretary General’s message on World Press Freedom Day 2017:

“Journalists go to the most dangerous places to give voice to the voiceless.

Media workers suffer character assassination, sexual assault, detention, injuries and even death.

We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation.

And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth.

On World Press Freedom Day, I call for an end to all crackdowns against journalists – because a free press advances peace and justice for all.

When we protect journalists, their words and pictures can change our world.”

… and now, if you will kindly allow me to say a few words of my own on this important day.

            I would first like to pay tribute to one of the most revered journalists in Myanmar, U Win Tin, who won the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2001.  At that time U Win Tin was in prison and to paraphrase the former Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, who had visited U Win Tin in Insein Prison, “Prison is not a place where poets (or journalists) should be." This was Prof. Paulo Pinheiro's message for U Win Tin’s 75th Birthday dated Friday, March 11, 2005

            Myanmar and media freedoms have certainly come a long way since then.  Like U Win Tin, and others like him, Myanmar continues to produce great journalists.  Just last year, Myanmar produced its first Pulitzer Prize Winner, Esther Htusan, of Associated Press, who together with her colleagues, won the Award for Public Service Journalism, when their stories of trafficked Myanmar fishermen broke the news and resulted in the freedom of more than two thousand Myanmar fishermen, and made countries in the region look into their laws to protect migrant workers.

            This year’s World Press Freedom Index released by Reports without Borders saw Myanmar climb 12 spots compared to last year, coming in at 131 out of 180 countries.  Last year, Myanmar was ranked 143, and the year before that, 144.   

            Myanmar has come far, there is no question about that.  But there are still 130 countries ahead of Myanmar on the Index.  There are, for example, still concerns raised on the safety and security of journalists.  Just last year, Excellency Dr. Pe Myint presented an award on behalf of President Htin Kyaw, to Myanmar Now journalist, U Swe Win who ended the servitude and torture of two housemaids at a Yangon tailor shop. U Swe Win’s courageous reporting on sensitive issues in Myanmar led to him receive death threats.  Likewise, the death of a Monywa-based Eleven journalist remains unresolved.

            There are high expectations on increased media freedoms under the present Government.  The media in Myanmar have made significant progress.  They have set high standards for themselves and expect the support of the Government in helping them reach these standards.   Higher media standards require access to information, including to Government sources and to areas where there is strife, in order to report credibly and based on verified information.  Credible media does not produce fake news.  Credible media does not vilify people, incite hatred or make character assassinations.   In order for credible media to do its job, support must be given and barriers removed.  Whether these barriers are physical, psychological, or censorship -- imposed or self-imposed, they should be a thing of the past in today’s Myanmar.

            In conclusion, on this World Press Freedom Day 2017, let us honour the brave journalists who have sacrificed so much, including their lives.  Media Freedom is the fourth estate and the foundations of a healthy democratic society, governed by the rule of law and open and transparent to all.  

Kyay zuu tin Bar Deh.