I remember one evening in 2004; I was walking back and forth on the street in front of our shop holding a radio close to my ear. People stared at me. “What is this kid doing?” A 13-year-old girl listening to the radio was definitely new for people during that time in Burma.
I got this habit from my Dad. Foreign exile news agencies like BBC (Burmese),VOA, RFA and DVB were what most people relied on for trustworthy news tackling issues on the government’s brutality, corruption and relations with foreign countries. People felt they were fully informed by them and they trusted it and not the national TV or newspaper.
When I enrolled in university, radio had already empowered me to be an informed citizen. It’s unsurprising that most kids in Burma do not have a reading culture due to a couple reasons. First, the parents themselves do not have a reading culture and books are much more accessible in the city towns like Rangoon. Poor education is another reason. Library often lack resources and so, students study by heart to what lecturers said and they teach the students in a very exam-oriented manner. No one will engage in critical questioning during the class and it causes us to be passive citizen. Most of the students won’t realize what “Passive citizen” is really.
Radio definitely was an alternative learning method in the evenings where I can access to international news, opinion pieces, gossip columnists and sometimes outstanding student studying in places such as London speaks of their experiences during radio broadcasts. So, people around the world can hear them and it has been my inspiration to study abroad. My mom didn’t like it at all for she is afraid that I am going to be politician.
During the university courses, I registered in private English library in where I encouraged my friends to do the same. I found new like-minded friends and it gave us an opportunity to gather and conduct conversation informally in teashop. Here, we started to share, among peers, books, poem and thoughts apart from social and politics conversation. We empowered ourselves to keep track of any updates about the ongoings of the country, and that’s how peer pressure works out in the civil society of Burma.
I studied abroad in later years and online reading is one of the resources that we are adapting into media more than the past. In our country, most of us do not possess computers, so the internet café is the only one place we can search news and do other communication. So, I tried to browse the news website I noted by heart in my mind. Of course, as long as we take time to use internet, it charges per hours. Television was not really a part of my life because some strict parents thought letting children television will harm their study time and it is regarded as misbehavior if we visit our neighbor’s house to watch television. My life was so closed to media in this way until I studied abroad in Bangkok. It gave me an opportunity to discover how I love to read the stories around and develop analytical, critical thinking skills. Discussion in classroom also helps me and I help my classmates in return.
Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, Newsmandala, Guardian, Bangkok Post, The Nation, Aljazeera are my favorites which I no longer need to memorize as trusted news resources. However, at once they twisted stories to me already. I have been reading the featured stories in the above news website in regards to riots in Rakhine state. It is totally a violent attack by Bengali Migrants who are illegally draining from Border of Myanmar and Bangladesh. However, the reporters describe the conflict as clash between Buddhism and Muslim. I think it is very dangerous when international media spread out the wrong information and misinform the whole community in the world. It harms the society and victims who are innocent.
How could they know the real stories without reaching out to the conflicts? Many questions come up and their writings really frustrate me. What could bring me again to trust the news media then? What should we have done to stop the reporters not to duplicate the same mistake? One more doubt left is who is behind them because I still need to survive with news and information for my daily life and they themselves need to prove that they are benefiting the citizen with their profession.
Written by Su Mwan