A country case study from the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.
One of the most important areas of reform instigated by the Burmese government since 2012 has been in relaxing media freedoms, as part of a wider opening of the space for civil society and freedom of expression. This space has been filled rapidly by vibrant new independent Burmese media. However, after 50 years of the absence of non-state newspapers, many of these new publications are on a steep learning curve regarding standards of professional journalism and responsible reporting. This is particularly true when it comes to sensitive issues such as reporting issues around religion and religious conflict.
The UK is committed to supporting the democratic reform process in Burma. We want to encourage strong and effective media, able to act as effective HRDs, in order to highlight issues of concern and stimulate constructive debate about the future of Burma. At the same time, we are concerned about a rise in prejudice and discrimination against Burma’s religious minorities, with the emergence of religious nationalist groups, and an increase in hate speech. In 2013 and 2014, there were instances where inaccurate or inadequate media coverage has fuelled inter-communal and inter-religious tensions and violence.
In 2014, the HRDP funded a project with the Religion News Service (RNS), which worked with local partners to train editors, journalists and bloggers on responsible and accurate reporting of issues around religious freedoms and faith-based conflicts. Religious leaders representing Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism shared their advice, and a network was established to help pass on new skills and knowledge. The media have an important role to play as HRDs by upholding fundamental freedoms, and ensuring their journalism is conducted accordingly.
The beneficiaries have written articles and commentary pieces demonstrating lessons learned and best practice in reporting on religious freedom and faith-based conflicts; these have been published in local and international publications, including the Washington Post and Huffington Post.