India-Myanmar media dialogue

Under a gleaming sunlight on the hill station of Meghalaya, more than 20 scholars and media experts discussed the current state of affairs between India and Myanmar, especially focusing on media exchanges. The Northeast region of India not only shares a long border with Myanmar, but also cultural traditions and indigenous tribes which go beyond this separating line. The primary objective of the dialogue was to improve cooperation between Indian and Myanmar media for a better representation of all the important agendas on India-Myanmar relations.

The dialogue was kicked-off by Sabyasachi Dutta, director of Asian Confluence, who emphasised the importance of the bilateral cooperation in the so-called ‘third space’, the sector of civil society.  In this, Northeast region of India can play a pivotal role in building a bridge between the two countries. Ash Narain Roy, director of Institute of Social Sciences remarked in his introduction that the media have a lot of power regarding the topics which will be covered and which not. This applies especially to post-conflict societies like Myanmar.

There is still insufficient media reporting and public awareness in India about its eastern neighbor. So there is a big potential to draw attention to social issues like political and cultural exchanges that had been marginalised so far. Media in Myanmar is slowly opening up to the rest of the world which would serve closer interactions among border states and regions. The Myanmar media have gone through tremendous change now dealing with topics like the release of dissidents that under the military dictatorship would have been censored.

Khin Zaw Win, director of Tampadipa Institute, Yangon stressed that India’s Act East Policy could bring immense progress to the ASEAN-China-India (ACI) region, if implemented fully. The National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar won an overwhelming victory in the November 2015 election. Both the state and society in Myanmar now will have to consolidate democracy, end a war and introduce federalism in the country. According to Walter Fernandes, Senior Fellow of North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, the cooperation in the political sector between India and Myanmar is inadequate. So he suggested a deeper cooperation of the civil societies which should be also a mutual learning process between India and Myanmar.

In his special address, former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia highlighted that media, strategic community and civil society should work together and collaborate on different issues on bilateral relations. So far merely the political Think-Tanks were interested in these issues. Media is a great opportunity as well as a challenge for Myanmar now as it used to be oppressed by military rulers for a long time and only has been opened up recently. As discussed above Myanmar is also facing many other challenges at the moment. So it is up to the nation and the new government to make sure that they will develop a vivid and functioning democracy instead of becoming a “chaotic democracy”, according to Rajiv Bhatia. He also specified that northeast India should become a learning centre about India’s immediate eastern neighbours.

Esther Htu San, the first Myanmarese Pulitzer winning journalist raised her concerns about the huge presence of Chinese media in Myanmar. This can be explained by the deep cooperation between the former military government and the Chinese government which resulted for example in infrastructural projects. Furthermore she criticised the absence of Indian media. Therefore, India must be more cooperative, both on the government and the civil society level. She underlined the importance of language as a mediator between two countries and suggested the establishment of Indian press agencies in Myanmar. Esther Htu San also cited that social media could facilitate the communication between journalists from both countries to carry forward their relations. Another important idea that came up during discussion was that India should organise training for Myanmar’s journalists.

Throughout the conference it was emphasised by all speakers that the civil society and especially journalists played a crucial role in bringing both countries together. One of the most important outcomes was the plea for Indian journalists to cover Myanmarese issues more on the media and to unite with Myanmar journalists. This can be achieved by increasing the frequency of such dialogues and also by formalising collaborations between informal groups and formal institutions.

The dialogue was equally represented by stakeholders from different northeastern states of India. Some other academia, journalists and politicians from both states including Deepak Deewan, executive editor, Northeast Sun, Dr. Walter Fernandes, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, Rajeev Bhattacharya, Senior Journalist, Guwahati, U Ye Tun, former Member of Parliament, Myanmar, Bano Haralu, Senior Journalist, Dimapur, C.K Nayak, Press Council of India, Aroonim, Senior Editor, IANS and many more. The dialogue was successfully concluded with fruitful feedback from all participants in order to carry forward similar discussions in the future.