Burma begins journey towards a free and open press

Updated

GlobalPost Executive Editor and co-founder Charles Sennott dropped by NOW with Alex Wagner on Monday to discuss the recent press reforms in Burma.

On April 1, the southeast Asian nation—which was ruled by a military dictatorship for the better part of half a century—began allowing private, independent newspapers to hit newsstands for the first since 1964.

Four newspapers—Golden Fresh Land, The Voice, The Union and The Standard Time—began daily publication last week, free from government censorship, 12 more new publications are soon to follow.

The Associated Press also officially reopened its bureau in Burma with six full-time journalists reporting from inside the country.

“There is a sense of a great opening right now in Burma,” Sennott said. “I think it’s a really exciting moment, but I think it’s going to take a great commitment on the part of the government, which has shown an early commitment to opening up to a free press, and of the opposition, to Aung San Suu Kyi and the other leaders of the opposition who have pushed for this forever.”

The country’s President Thein Sein—a former military commander who came to power in 2011—is also liberalizing Burma’s telecoms industry in an effort to modernize and expand communications in a country where just 1% of the citizens have internet access and 6% own a mobile phone.

The country’s recent efforts led to the U.S. lifting sanctions against Burma’s export industries. Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country when he stopped there in November on his first overseas tour following his re-election.

The panel also discussed the state of the media in general and the great responsibility that lies with the country’s fledgling reporters in a country prone to spreading rumors and misinformation.

“There’s a great responsibility that the new press corps will have in the sense that they’ll have to be aware of the great ethnic tensions, the religious divisions, the sense that what they write matters and can really touch off skirmishes or violence,” Sennott said. “But on the other hand, they can begin to learn about each other in a way they never have.”

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Burma begins journey towards a free and open press

Updated