The launch of the handbook was accompanied by a panel discussion featuring Daw May Thingyan Hein, recipient of the Knight International Journalism Award; Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of The Voice; and U Htain Win, retired judicial officer and the Legal Advisor for the Rule of Law Center in Mandalay.

After months of reviewing, editing and fact-checking, I finally got to witness the launch of the Rule of Law Handbook for Journalists in Myanmar before a room full of aspiring journalists and civil society organizational representatives. 

Earlier in the year, UNDP had teamed up with the German organization Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung to put together this book.  Both organizations believe that freedom of the press as well as ethical reporting are key to building a strong democracy in Myanmar, and we wanted to give Myanmar journalists an extra hand in doing their job.

The Handbook is a quick reference guide to the rule of law and good governance principles that sustain a democracy as well as the best practices for media workers covering the workings of government. 

As attendees signed in and picked up the little blue and white book, I could see subtle nods of approval as they flipped it over to find both Myanmar and English versions in one book, the result of KAS’ expert designing.

KAS and UNDP had also organized a panel discussion during the launch with some of the most groundbreaking Myanmar journalists and jurists—faces known internationally as well as nationally for their fearless dedication to freedom of the press. For this reason in particular, I was especially happy to see a contingent of journalism students from local universities at the event. 

Considering that many in Myanmar have a misunderstanding of what “rule of law” means, the Handbook has a detailed description of the concept and also gives examples of rule of law projects and programs currently underway in Myanmar.

There is a chapter on the hot topic of journalistic ethics and how to use industry standards such as unbiased reporting, avoidance of hate speech and using multiple sources to ensure that reporting is fair and accurate. 

From our work here we know that journalists are often prevented from entering courts even though Myanmar law provides for open courts and public trials. Because of this, in the court reporting chapter we wanted to give those journalists who do insist on exercising the public’s right to access information an idea of what fair trial principles they should expect to observe inside a courtroom. 

We also handle the topic of those laws that regularly affect the work of journalists in Myanmar, for example the crime of defamation under section 499 of the Penal Code and the Official Secrets Act.

As I had expected, the panel discussion revealed internal and external challenges to the media that are often not discussed openly.  For example, lack of sound financial management skills among media companies as well as routine systemic discrimination against ethnic media. 

As the panelists spoke, I looked around to see the journalism students taking notes and the news cameras filming; I hoped the experiences of these trailblazers along with the Handbook would inspire many to take on this critical work.

At the end of the event I learned that all 300 copies of the Handbook that were available that day had been picked up, and that many people requested additional copies. I saw that as a good sign that this work could help make Myanmar journalists feel more confident as they report on the important news of the day.

About the Author

Shama Farooq is an American lawyer currently serving as UNDP’s Rule of Law and Access to Justice Officer in Shan State, Myanmar. She holds a juris doctorate degree from Tulane University. Her experience includes working as a public defender in the United States,  training legal aid lawyers in Palestine and Tunisia and enhancing the capacity of public prosecutors in Pakistan. Prior to joining UNDP, she was a lecturer at Pekeinh Univeristy’s School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. 

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