Authors: BBC Media Action's Phyo Wai Lin and Su Myat Mon, November 13 2015 - "In our state, the children in grade two [age 7] cannot even read Burmese. Why is that?"
On Saturday 12 September, an 18-year-old woman from Kachin in northern Myanmar asked this question of four parliamentary candidates sitting in front of her as part of an LLKS Election Special.
LLKS (Lin Lat Kyair Sin or Bright Young Stars) is BBC Media Action’s youth empowerment radio programme, made by young people for young people across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. In the past year, it has reached 8.9 million people across the country.
This young Kachin woman was one of 78 young people who came from across Myanmar to question the politicians who will run for parliamentary seats in the general election on 8 November.
The election is only the second in Myanmar since the 1988 uprising (the military regime did not honour the results of the 1990 poll). And for decades, the people of Myanmar have been living in fear and have tended to stay away from politics.
It's therefore not surprising that many people don’t know the importance of the election or the role of the MPs they are electing to represent them.
After our Election Special, one young man from Kayah, in eastern Myanmar, told us that this was the first time in his life that he’d seen young people question older people, let alone question politicians!
Many others like him who live in rural areas of Myanmar don’t know much about elections, or voting procedures and political parties.
But when given the chance to take part in the election special, our young audience was thrilled to be asked questions about the issues that matter to them, such as education and job opportunities.
We hope that through hearing young people asking questions about issues that directly affect their own lives, LLKS's audience will be themselves inspired to participate in the elections and feel more able to question those in power who represent them.
Election reporting training
BBC Media Action's training team has also been helping inform people about the elections through training journalists.
It's estimated that there are about 4000 journalists in Myanmar, most of whom are young. Almost all of these young reporters grew up under military rule in an education system which discourages critical thinking or asking questions. And like their peers, most young journalists haven’t had enough opportunities to learn about political history, different political systems, MPs' roles and the election process.
To tackle this, we delivered eight rounds of a four-day course, which we call MOELJO (mobile phone skills and election reporting for journalists), to 170 journalists in six different locations around the country.
The training covered such topics as what research journalists could do to prepare, the role of the media in elections, international election standards, as well as the basic journalistic principles of accuracy, impartiality and fairness. Its focus on practical skills using cheap available mobile technology was particularly popular with the trainees. One trainee told us, “In most training I’ve done, we only learned from lectures but in this training we had a chance to practice the skills. We had to go out to film by ourselves and edit it ourselves. We reporters really enjoyed it - we don’t want to sit in one place all the time, we are curious and want to go around."
The training also provided expert panels for discussions. We invited officials from the Election Commission to explain election-related laws, rules and regulations; experienced journalists who could share their insights from previous elections; and representatives from local civil society groups who were involved in voter education or election monitoring.
Since the start of the election campaign, it has been a joy to see the MOELJO trainees reporting on different issues that are important to people in their area and to national audiences.
We can’t predict what the elections will bring but what’s certain is that journalists are better trained and young people across Myanmar more informed. We hope that these are two steps toward a brighter future for Myanmar.
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Myanmar.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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