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Seminars in 2000

Media and Democracy: The Asian Experience


September 18-20, 2000, Pune, Maharashtra State of India

The three-day workshop on media and democracy with the emphasis on Asian experience was participated by total 30 journalists, media personnel and academics from Burma, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Malaysia, Canada and Australia. There were seven country presentations (West Papua, India, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) on the situation of media and democracy.


Mr. Ram Jethmalani, former Law Minister of India

The inaugural session of the workshop was held at Chandrasekhar Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune in the morning of 18th September, which was the 12th Anniversary of military take-over in Burma in 1988. Mr. Ram Jethmalani, former Law Minister of India was Chief Guest while Mr. Kuldip Nayar, senior journalist and Member of Parliament was keynote speaker at the inaugural session. Speaking at the inaugural session, Mr. Jethmalani said, “My journalist friends will write about anything, but will not write about Burma. It is high time the press in India started talking about destruction of democracy in neighboring countries as it is like an infectious disease that may overtake us before we know it.”


Mr. Kuldip Nayar, senior journalist and MP of India

The keynote address speaker Mr. Kuldip Nayar expressed his strong views on the lack of objectivity in journalism today. “In newsrooms, certain news stories are killed because they do not suit the establishment. We are the eyes and ears of the reader. If a journalist falls to be objective, he has died as a journalists,” he said. Leading advertisement filmmaker Prahlad Kakar also ventured an opinion speaking from his personal experience in Burma. “If a country ceases to dream, then the people there cease to live. All the people in Burma still have the capacity to dream, and thus there is hope”.


Symbiosis president Dr. S. B. Mujumdar

Moreover, speeches were delivered by Symbiosis president Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, Mizzima News editor Mr. Soe Myint, and SIMC director Prof. Ujjwal K. Chowdhury. Afterwards, the inauguration of art exhibition on Burma was held at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Museum, Symbiosis Society where noted Cartoonist of India Mr. R. K. Laxman inaugurated the exhibition. Total 23 canvas paintings by Burmese artist Sitt Nyein Aye were exhibited for three full days.

Sessions Report

The First Day: September 18, 2000

The deliberations of the workshop were held at the Assembly Hall of the Symbiosis Centre for Information Technology (SCIT) at Atur Centre, Pune. The first session of the first day was on the need for voluntary code of ethics for media by a known editor of a women and society magazine in India.

Ms. Madhu Kishwar who has successfully established an alternative media in India for more than 20 years without any governmental support spoke on code of ethics for the media personnel. She put forward that media today needs voluntary code of ethics, which should not be enforceable legally or by the government but by a certain media monitoring group itself.

Ms. Debbie Stothard, who is co-coordinator of Alternative AEAN network on Burma group based in Thailand, spoke on journalism in times of repression, with particular emphasis on Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ms. Debbie Stothard has been a media campaigner since 1981. Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Debbie highlighted the lack of freedom of expression in the countries under authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes. “Freedom of speech is as much important as freedom after the speech,” she said citing the cases of those who are arrested and tortured because of their exercise of freedom of speech. The first day of the workshop had also country presentations from West Papua, India and Tibet, where the situation of media, democracy and human rights in respective countries were highlighted.

The Second Day: September 19, 2000.

In the second day sessions, Ms. Rajashri Dasgupta, an active womens’ rights activist dwelt at length on Women and Media: Experience of the 80s. She felt that media responds to social change but ‘media’ also projects partial reality’. According to her, media has never led a womens’ movement. She strongly felt that in this day and age of commercialization of media ‘if the reader can be made to think then that is good journalism’.

There was also a country presentation by Yindee Lertcheeroenchok of Thailand is considered to be an expert in ASEAN affairs and Thai foreign policy. She cautioned journalists against falling into the trap of becoming loyal to any political party ‘because that could lead to a complete polarization of public opinion’.

Prof. U. K. Chowdhury, Director, SIMC expressed doubts about Ms. Rajeshri Dasgupta’s contention that women are getting into professional positions in large numbers. He felt that women are actually being co-opted into the system rather than being accepted perse. On the information technology of the 21st Century, the Professor opined that convergence was the new mantra and that all media including new media would coexist. ‘However presentation styles have changed and are being customized to the requirements of different media’. He also felt that it’s an essential prerequisite of the new age that media personnel have to be techno savvy. In the ultimate analysis it’s the man behind the machine and it’s more the contents than the technology that matter.


Ms. Madhu Kishwar editor of the women’s magazine, Manushi

Ms. Madhu Kishwar editor of the women’s magazine, Manushi accused the media of bracketing journalists like her in the ‘feminist category’ and declared that although she espouses genuine feministic issues, she is not a feminist perse. She was speaking on the topic of Voluntary Slavery: Media dependent on govt. patronage. There was also a documentary film show by Australian filmmaker Tim Bryson who spoke on digital journalism in the era of globalization.

This was followed by country presentation on Burma by exiled Burmese journalists who are now based in Thailand and India. Mr. Hla Phe who was imprisoned in a remote island of Burma for his anti-military regime activities spoke in length about his personal experiences. The other three journalists from Burma also highlighted the situation of media and democracy in Burma.

The afternoon session was marked by an interactive discussion between the SIMC journalism students and the participants on the controversial theme of whether media should take sides or not.


Editor of Mizzima News Group

The Third Day: September 20, 2000

The last day deliberations began with Mr. Siddharth Bhatia, consulting editor for the Pioneer newspaper in India. He stated that the first duty of journalists was to report what they see. He is not to be weighed down by considerations of ‘national interest’ as defined by established institutions like the Army, Govt. and the like. He was speaking on the theme of ‘media ethics.’ The media bias in North America’ was aptly explained by Gary Rozema of the Burmese Relief Centre (BRC) through a verbal talk and a documentary titled ‘only news that fits’. He informed the audience that there are basically four biases in mainstream media in North America namely influence of the ruling party, compulsion of the media houses to make profits, the influence of large MNCs and of those who own media houses and their compulsion to sell their contents. Later Mr. Siddharth Bhatia also made a country presentation on Sri Lanka where freedom of media is highly restricted. In fact, the original invited speaker for country presentation (Sri Lanka) Mr. Lasantha Wikramatunge, Editor of Sunday Leader, was sentenced for two years imprisonment for criticizing the president of the country, just a few days before our workshop.

Mr. Nazmal Ashraf, Senior Political Correspondent, Daily Star, Bangladesh dwelt at length on ‘Media and transitional democracy in Bangladesh’. According to him Bangladesh today, yet it will take some time before democracy takes a more concrete shape on that country. Prof. U. K. Chowdhury lucidly explained the problem of refugees and the attendant migration problems with the help of a power point presentation on Indian media response on refugees and migration problems. He spoke of four basic kinds of displacement due to terrorism such as in Kashmir, migration caused due to ethnic strife like Bosnia, mega projects like the Narmada Valley project which has displaced thousands of people and the least talked about rural urban migration. He felt that the media response to the whole issue of displacement has been very halfhearted and has failed to reflect the reality of displacement in India. In fact, the reflection has been selective and sporadic to say the lease.

The workshop was concluded with a plenary session and the proclamation of the three pronged vision statement which envisaged the upholding of ethical standards in journalism, the networking of media professionals from the South Asian and South East Asian region to focus on the commonalties rather than the differences and the free flow of information and exchange of ideas through people to people contact in the region.


Burmese Artist Sitt Nyein Aye & Cartoonist of India Mr. R. K. Laxman in Arts exhibition

Evaluation and Comments:

At the end of the workshop, a session on evaluation and comments was held. The participants expressed thanks to organizers for holding this kind of regional journalists meeting and for the efforts networking journalists and media personnel in South Asia and South East Asia. The participants expressed the need to initiate a South Asia-South East Asia journalist network, by having regular communication and debates on media and democracy related issues. A website and e-group to this effect should be started now, the participants suggested. There would be a publication on the proceedings and debates of the workshop. The workshop had made the participants more aware on the media and democracy situation in the countries in the region. And it promoted more awareness on Burma and the situation under military rule. Some participants also suggested organizing media training exclusively for journalists and reporters from Burma (from various nationalities of Burma).

Media and Democracy: The Asian Experience

The Third Day Press Release: September 20, 2000

The 3-day international workshop on Media and Democracy: The Asian Experience, jointly organized by Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication and the Mizzima News Group was concluded today at the Assembly Hall of the Symbiosis Centre for Information Technology (SCIT). A three pronged vision statement was declared which envisaged the upholding of ethical standards in journalism, the networking of media professionals from the South Asian region to focus on the commonalties rather than the differences and the free flow of information and exchange of ideas through people to people contact in the region.

Speaking on the occasion Mr. Siddharth Bhatia, consulting editor for the Pioneer newspaper stated that the first duty of journalists was to report what they see. He is not to be weighed down by considerations of ‘national interest’ as defined by established institutions like the Army, Govt. and the like. He was speaking on the theme of ‘media ethics.’

The media bias in North America’ was aptly explained by Gary Rozema of the Burmese Relief Centre (BRC) through a verbal talk and a documentary titled ‘only news that fits’. He informed the audience that there are basically four biases in mainstream media in North America namely influence of the ruling party, compulsion of the media houses to make profits, the influence of large MNCs and of those who own media houses and their compulsion to sell their contents. Later Mr. Siddharth Bhatia also made a country presentation.

Mr. Nazmal Ashraf, Senior Political Correspondent, Daily Star, Bangladesh dwelt at length on ‘Media and transitional democracy in Bangladesh’. According to him Bangladesh today, yet it will take some time before democracy takes a more concrete shape on that country.

But perhaps the most interesting comprehensive presentation for the day was that of Prof. U. K. Chowdhury. He lucidly explained the problem of refugees and the attendant migration problems with the help of a power point presentation. He spoke of four basic kinds of displacement due to terrorism such as in Kashmir, migration caused due to ethnic strife like Bosnia, mega projects like the Narmada Valley project which has displaced thousands of people and the least talked about rural urban migration. He felt that the media response to the whole issue of displacement has been very halfhearted and has failed to reflect the reality of displacement in India. In fact, the reflection has been selective and sporadic to say the lease.

The workshop was concluded with a plenary session and the proclamation of the vision statement, which has been enumerated here earlier. Today was also the final day of the art exhibition on Burma by Sitt Nyein Aye, an exiled Burmese artist, which as on view at the Ambedkar Memorial Grounds of Symbiosis society.


In Assambly Hall of SCIT at Atur Centre, Pune

Media Coverage:

The workshop and art exhibition were well covered in the newspapers with news, articles and photographs in Pune. Some of the newspapers, which covered the workshop and art exhibition, are:

19/9/00 - Times of India: Scribes should focus on democracy in neighbouring countries
19/9/00 - Pune Herald: Editors being too compliant: Kuldip Nayar
19/9/00 - The Indian Express: No rationale behind preventive detention law, says Jethmalani
20/9/00 - The Times of India: In Myanmar: you need a licence to buy even a fax machine
20/9/00 - Pune Times: The man from Mandalay (About Art Exhibition)
20/9/00 - The Indian Express: Brushes of Burma (About Art Exhibition)

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Editors being too compliant: Kuldeep Nayar

From Pune Herald, Maharashtra State
September 19, 2000

Eminent journalist, diplomat and Rajya Sabha member Kuldeep Nayar observed that the Press could hardly express itself fully because today’s editors were being too accommodating and adjusting.

He was delivering his keynote address at the opening of the three-day Workshop on Media and Democracy organized by Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication and Mizzima News Group, on Monday.

Nayar endorsed the views earlier expressed by Prof U. K Chowdhury, Director of Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication that the press had not lived up to its expectations in the country.

Former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani who spoke about the draconian emergency era called for repealing the Preventive Detention Law. Compared to the situation in Myanmar where democracy had been crushed under a ruthless military regime, Jethmalani said that the situation in India was much more stable now.

Soe Myint, secretary of the Mizzima News Group said that the media in Myanmar was totally controlled by the government.

Noted Ad. Filmmaker Prahlad Kakar enlightened the audience about his experiences in Myanmar and remarked that the best thing about Myanmar
was that inspite of their many trials and tribulations, the people there still dared to dream.

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‘Scribes should focus on democracy in neighboring countries’

Sudeshna Ghosh
Times of India, Pune, Maharashtra State
September 19, 2000

“Impunctuality is the special preserve of politicians,” is how former Union minister Ram Jethmalani began his address at the inauguration of a three-day workshop on ‘Media and democracy – the Asian experience’, at the IUCAA auditorium, here on Monday.Although of to a late start, the inaugural event set the pace for a workshop that promised to be exciting and relevant in the modern global context.

This seminar is an attempt by the Mizzima News Service, an organization of Burmese journalists in exile, in association with the Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication (SIMC), to bring to light the repression of democracy and free press in Burma and to encourage young journalists of the region.

Jethmalani, in his address, dwelt on his first-hand experience during the Emergency in India, saying, “The test of democracy lies in imposing it on those you do not like, not on those you love.” He pointed out that, “Apart from the death of the free press, the power to detain people without trial leads to the demise of democracy. Mentioning his personal crusade against preventive detention, he said, “The hallmark of democracy is an independent and vigilant judiciary.” Touching upon Burma, Jethmalani said, “My journalist friends will write about anything, but will not write about Burma. It is high time the press in India started talking about destruction of democracy in neighboring countries as it is like an infectious disease that may overtake us before we know it.” Also present as the keynote address speaker was noted journalist Kuldeep Nayar, who expressed his strong views on the lack of objectivity in journalism today.

“In newsrooms, certain news stories are killed because they do not suit the establishment. We are the eyes and ears of the reader. If a journalist falls to be objective, he has died as a journalists,” he said.“Today, news is tittle-tattle... nothing beyond half-clad actresses, fashion or night clubs, he said, urging budding journalists to have a commitment towards democracy and ideology. Leading and filmmaker Prahlad Kakar also ventured an opinion speaking from his personal experience in Burma. “If a country ceases to dream, then the people there cease to live. All the people in Burma still have the capacity to dream, and thus there is hope”. The editor of the Mizzima News Service also spoke on the occasion and thanked journalists from all over India for participating in this unique seminar.
Director of the SIMC Professor Ujjwal Choudhury also spoke on the occasion.

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Media and Democracy: The Asian Experience

The 2nd Day Press Release: September 19, 2000 Pune

The second day of the workshop on Media and Democracy: The Asian Experience, organized jointly by Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication (SIMC) and the Mizzima News Group got underway today at the Assembly Hall of the Symbiosis Centre for Information Technology (SCIT) at Atur Centre, Pune.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Rajashree Dasgupta, an active womens’ rights activist dwelt at length on Women and Media: Experience of the 80s. She felt that media responds to social change but ‘media’ also projects partial reality’. According to her media, has never led a womens’ movement. She strongly felt that in this day and age of commercialization of media ‘if the reader can be made to think then that is good journalism’. There was also a country presentation by Yindee Lertcheeroenchok of Thailand is considered to be an expert in ASEAN affairs and Thai foreign policy. She cautioned journalists against falling into the trap of becoming loyal to any political party ‘because that could lead to a complete polarization of public opinion’.

Prof. U. K. Chowdhury, Director, SIMC expressed doubts about Ms. Rajeshri Dasgupta’s contention that women are getting into professional positions in large numbers. He felt that women are actually being coopted into the system rather than being accepted perse. On the information technology of the 21s Century, the Professor opined that convergence was the new mantra and that all media including new media would coexist. ‘However presentation styles have changed and are being customized to the requirements of different media’. He also felt that it’s an essential prerequisite of the new age that media personnel have to be techno savvy. In the ultimate analysis it’s the man behind the machine and its more the contents than the technology that matter.

Ms. Madhu Kishwar editor of the women’s magazine, Manushi accused the media of bracketing journalists like her in the ‘feminist category’ and declared that although she espouses genuine feministic issues, she is not a feminist perse. She was speaking on the topic of Voluntary Slavery: Media dependent on govt. patronage. There was also a documentary film show by Australian filmmaker Tim Bryson who spoke on Reconciliation for Aboriginal Australia.

The afternoon session was marked by an interactive discussion between the students and the participants on the controversial theme of whether media should take sides or not.

On the whole, the workshop was well attended by journalists and activists from Burma, Thailand among other Asian countries. Delegates from Australia and Canada were also present on the occasion. Tomorrow would be the third and final day of the workshop at the same venue.

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Brushes of Burma

The Indian Express - ‘Pune News Line’ September 20, 2000

Sitt Nyein Aye fled Burma in 1988. Since then he has been living in India, and spreading awareness through his paintings, of the plight of the Burmese under the tyranny of military rule. This week he is in Pune and his paintings are on display at the Symbiosis Society’s Ambedkar Museum. Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, figures prominently in this collection. Other paintings capture the sights and many moods of Burma, its culture and customs. Today is the last day of the exhibition.

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