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Now With Alex
updated 4/8/2013 5:50:48 PM ET 2013-04-08T21:50:48

The NOW panel discusses the recent easing of press restrictions in Burma, a company that hasn't had a free press since 1964.

GlobalPost Executive Editor and co-founder Charles Sennott dropped by NOW with Alex Wagner on Monday to discuss the recent press reforms in Burma.

On April 1, the southeast Asian nation—which was ruled by a military dictatorship for the better part of half a century—began allowing private, independent newspapers to hit newsstands for the first since 1964.

Four newspapers—Golden Fresh Land, The Voice, The Union and The Standard Time—began daily publication last week, free from government censorship, 12 more new publications are soon to follow.

The Associated Press also officially reopened its bureau in Burma with six full-time journalists reporting from inside the country.

“There is a sense of a great opening right now in Burma,” Sennott said. “I think it’s a really exciting moment, but I think it’s going to take a great commitment on the part of the government, which has shown an early commitment to opening up to a free press, and of the opposition, to Aung San Suu Kyi and the other leaders of the opposition who have pushed for this forever.”

The country’s President Thein Sein—a former military commander who came to power in 2011—is also liberalizing Burma’s telecoms industry in an effort to modernize and expand communications in a country where just 1% of the citizens have internet access and 6% own a mobile phone.

The country’s recent efforts led to the U.S. lifting sanctions against Burma’s export industries. Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country when he stopped there in November on his first overseas tour following his re-election.

The panel also discussed the state of the media in general and the great responsibility that lies with the country’s fledgling reporters in a country prone to spreading rumors and misinformation.

“There’s a great responsibility that the new press corps will have in the sense that they’ll have to be aware of the great ethnic tensions, the religious divisions, the sense that what they write matters and can really touch off skirmishes or violence,” Sennott said. “But on the other hand, they can begin to learn about each other in a way they never have.”

Video: Burma opens doors to free press

  1. Closed captioning of: Burma opens doors to free press

    >>> it's opening of the presses and other steps towards democracy have put a spotlight on freedom in burma . reporters without borders acknowledged the country's recent efforts moving the country up 18 spots this year to number 151 in its rankings of global press freedom. but challenges still remain. in a visit to burma last month, google executive chairman eric schmidt urged the country to allow private businesses to modernize the country's poor telecommunications infrastructure. according to the world bank , only 1% of burmese citizens have access to the internet and just 6% of the population own as cell phone . joining the panel is char charlie senate, executive editor and co-founder of global post. great to have you here.

    >> good to be here. being half burmese i'm very interested in everything that's going on over there. i think it's relative to people involved in news-gathering in a broader sense. in terms of how do we jockey this changing line of what journalism means and the question of revenue and support and reporting and fairness. but let's look at sort of newspaper trends worldwide involved in the global post.

    >> that was my world for 25, 30 years of my life.

    >> we talk about sort of the death of newspapers here and certainly newspapership circulation and titles are declining in north america , western europe and central and eastern europe but they're rising, considerably in asia, latin america and the middle east and africa. what do you attribute that to?

    >> i think there's not enough people online. they're still looking to the traditional delivery of news which is through the printed presses. it's also, candidly easier for the government to control. you have a situation in myanmar or burma where the government is opening up and they're going to take these weekly newspapers and make them daily. that's a big development, but they still have to issue the permits for the presses. so there's a sense of a great opening right now in burma . i think it's really an exciting moment. i think it's full of poe essential. but i think it's going to take a great commitment on the part of the government which has shown an early commitment to opening up to the free press, to the opposition to aung san suu kyi and the other leaders of opposition, who pushed for this forever. but there's an excitement on the ground. i was just there and you can feel the excitement of young people who don't have a lot of training, who haven't had lot of experience. who are looking for an opportunity to express themselves. i think that sense of burma wanting to tell its own story. as we say, is, is something we're excited about and we're going to go over there and try to work with burmese journalists and american journalists and get that moving.

    >> the thing we were talking about during the break, something we grapple with here in the u.s. is how do you establish a fair nonpartisan free media fourth estates. at a time when most publications were opposition outlets, covering underground or had an agenda or government mouthpieces which also had an agenda. you couple that with the rise of the telecommunications industry . the fact that they're going to try to have coverage of 75% of the country from 1% now, is a shocking and dramatic shift.

    >> particularly in a country like burma . where you have such great religious and ethnic diversity in that country. it's very hard in any country to get it right. to have a free and fair press. i mean i think that's hard anywhere. but it's particularly hard in a country like burma . i think there are great challenges ahead this is a country that sits between china and india, huge business interests there in terms of all kintds of natural resources . from timber to water. to oil. energy. precious minerals, jade is very big. there's copper of course, there's actually a great interest in the business community in getting real information, it's not only the noble pursuit of the truth that is a great part of journalism, where it's succeeded. it's also a need for accuracy. in order to really understand the place. for investors, for the government, for the people who live there. so i think there's some very practical aspects that will lead burma forward, but i think it will take training. think the young generation of journalists will need help and i think there's a lot of support around them to take it sort of to the next level for this country.

    >> you know perhaps because this is part of my own ethnic heritage, i've take a disproportionate interest, eric. but also it's thes means to a society. and we have gotten into a lot of sort of media-bashing in this day and age. but it is sort of a brave new world for those of us that have been involved in print or online and figuring out sort of how to jockey the line. how to be immediately responsive to what's going on in the news while at the same time pursuing stories that require deep reporting and rigor and i'm sure all of you guys can talk to this. but in terms of your optimism and how we do it and moving forward, where are you?

    >> what this is a reminder of is how much we take for granted about the media that we have. and just to have one, just for them to be getting one essentially and getting it off the ground and the excitement around that and empowerment around that is really incredible. i think one thing that sets a lot of developing countries apart, though, when it comes to media is how possible is it for the media to even get information. it's one thing to have a newspaper, if you can't make a phone call , finding out the most basic information, what's the population of this village. not controversial, and that's a question i would have, as to what extent is the new government of burma in position? it's going to be a give and take, and they have to be in a position to supply real information. particularly given the ethnic differences that there are.

    >> that's a really good point. when we were in the modern capital, you get a sense of this awakening. of young reporters working the hallways in parliament. yeah, they're new at it and it's going to take time and the questions aren't that hard right now. they're sort of warming up. they're clearing their throats and getting ready to sing. i still think it's this moment for it to happen. i think the international support for that will be critical. the united states just to broaden out regionally for a second. the united states talks about the real concerns over north korea right now. and they are frequently holding out myanmar as an example of a country that's come in from the cold. i think there's a diplomatic initiative that's happening right now in burma that will essentially need that free press, in order for the country to go forward. in order for it to really fulfill, the potential it holds for example for coming out of the cold, out of the sanctions and into the future.

    >> the sort of telecommunications piece, burma is a land where rumors fly. in a place, there's no other country in the world like it and the terror that's struck in my heart that you will have the proliferation of blogs to further rumors, the sort of back and forth.

    >> and it can create violence. you're going to have to be aware of the great ethnic tensions and cultural divisions. they can begin to learn about each other in a way they never have. i think that's a sword that cuts both ways.

    >> may i suggest you take maggie haberman, and eric bates and joy reid and myself. we'll be happy to shed light. charlie, doing great work. thank you, thank you to everybody else on my panel.

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