It might not have made the international headlines. It
didn't even feature famous names such as Aung San Suu Kyi. But a national TV and radio debate
in Burma last week broke new ground in a country that is experiencing dizzying
changes on an almost daily basis.
World Economic Forum for East Asia, the BBC debate brought together members of
the government, the leading opposition party (NLD) and Mizzima, a formerly
exiled media group, to answer questions about whether the country’s economic
growth would really trickle down and improve the lives of all, rather than just
debate, moderated by Soe Win Than of the BBC Burmese Service, took place in a
gleaming conference centre in Naypyidaw, the country's vast, empty capital
built five hours north of the country's most populous city, Rangoon.
But the voice of ordinary Burmese men and women was heard
loud and clear through vox-pops recorded by the production team of BBC Media
Action’s youth radio programme, Lin Lat Kyair Sin (Bright Young Stars).
"If we work, then we eat"
The vox-pops featured people like a motor-cycle taxi
driver in Rangoon who said that Burma's much celebrated economic transformation
has had no positive effect yet on his own daily life. "For people like us,
there is no change," he said. "No change because if we work today, then we eat
The government representative on the panel was challenged by
questions on issues of
corruption, lack of investment in rural communities and energy supply. A day
labourer, for example, asked, "Myanmar doesn't get enough electricity so
why do you sell [energy] to our neighbours? When will Myanmar get electricity?"
A woman who runs a flower
stall in Htauk Kyat Market on the outskirts of Rangoon also took the chance to
urge government ministers to find out what was really going on in the country.
"In order to help
people who really suffer," she said. "The country minister should come down,
check and analyse every quarter (of the township). They should share the
feeling of what is happening in the quarter."
debate – conducted and broadcast in Burmese on the national TV network SkyNet
and on the BBC Burmese service – is a huge and encouraging leap forward for BBC
Media Action’s work in the country.
Behind the scenes at the debate in Naypyidaw.
Since April last year, we've reached out directly to
Burma's next generation with LLKS, our youth civic education programme
broadcast on the BBC Burmese service.
This year, we've been working with MRTV, the state
broadcaster, to improve the quality of information they provide to Burmese
audiences. And we will continue to build the capacity of working journalists
across the country to ensure that as the media opens up, they are prepared to
report on issues accurately and ethically.
It was MRTV journalists, trained by BBC Media Action, who
were responsible for yet another of last week's ground-breaking events.
After Thursday's WEF sessions, Aung San Suu Kyi held a
press conference in English where she repeated her desire to run for president
– a declaration that she had made that day on the BBC World Debate programme.
BBC Media Action's trainer in Burma, Bill Hayton,
requested that she repeat her statement in Burmese. She did so and the clip
made it into that evening's Lively News, a new news and current affairs show on
Myanmar Radio, and was part of the next day's news bulletins on MRTV.
It was a watershed moment for the state broadcaster MRTV
to broadcast not only a political statement from Aung San Suu Kyi but her
declaration, in Burmese, of her desire to run for the presidency.
But then in today's Burma, it seems, watershed moments are
a daily occurrence.