Empowering emerging young leaders of Myanmar

Having been directly targeted by the junta in the wake of the February 2021 coup and forced to work from exile and covertly inside Myanmar, Mizzima today is a leading source of news on post-coup Myanmar for Myanmar media consumers. In recent surveys of the national media scene, Mizzima was sighted as the most turned-to source for news by Myanmar media consumers.

Mizzima boasts over 21 million followers on its main Facebook page in addition to a digital daily newspaper in Burmese, a weekly English language magazine, and FM and SW radio broadcasting. While Mizzima’s two free-to-air satellite television channels reach an estimated 32 million viewers. In achieving these levels of success, Mizzima has partnered with 23 local and international entities (see Appendix B for the detailed list of Mizzima partners).

Taken together, Mizzima’s vast network of content distribution platforms in conjunction with local and international partners provide a sound foundation for the implementation of further education initiatives – both formal and informal in nature.

Media training at MMTI

The Mizzima Media Training Institute (MMTI), located inside Myanmar in an area outside of junta control, offers training and living facilities for trainers and trainees. MMTI formally opened its doors to trainees in August 2022.

The facility is envisioned to be used by both Mizzima and like-minded organizations to train current and future Myanmar journalists, for the purpose of both internal and external capacity building. Even prior to the coup, Myanmar’s human resources to support a vibrant independent media scene were severely tested. And after several media practitioners quit in the wake of the coup, the country’s capacity to supply the requisite journalists is even further strained. For this reason, the development of journalism skills for Myanmar youth is of benefit not only in the current stand-off with the junta and their state propaganda, but also to the future of a federal, democratic Myanmar.

Significantly, from the perspective of Strategic Communication, trainees take lessons from MMTI and return to their respective media group or community, at which point lessons learned are shared with colleagues and peers and messaging adapted as appropriate to the local context. This approach ensures a multiplication of the training as well as the incorporation of ‘local’ messaging into the national narrative.

MMTI is equipped with the necessary training facilities for journalism and media training. It operates with solar energy and natural water and is equipped with Internet access and is monitored with CCTV. MMTI opened on 9 August 2022 in Karen State in Myanmar to coincide with the 24th anniversary of Mizzima Media Group.

1.1 Curriculum for a 60-day training program

The 60-day training program comprises a total of 48 days of training in addition to 12 days off. Subjects covered and duration of study for each respective discipline are as follows:

  • Basic Journalism (15 days)
  • Fact-checking (10 Days)
  • MOJO (7 days)
  • Feature (5 days)
  • Story Grant – mentoring & coaching (2 days)
  • Basic Camera techniques/Editing (3 days)
  • Digital Security (3 days)
  • Gender and Development (3 days)

1.2 MMTI First Batch and Second Batch

MMTI formally opened in August 2022, with the inaugural training session commencing in late September 2022 with a focus on basic journalism and fact-checking. The session benefitted twelve persons from different parts of Myanmar such as Myitkyina (Kachin State), Kyaikto (Mon State), Hpa-An (Karen State), Sittwe and Kyauk Phyu (Rakhine State), and Bago (Bago Region). MMTI is currently conducting second batch of journalism with the fourteen persons from different parts of Myanmar.

1.3. MMTI planned training in 2023

MMTI will organize a minimum of four regular journalism trainings in 2023, with each batch of training lasting 60 days (an outline for a 60-day training program is provided above). The first training, scheduled to start in February 2023, will include trainees from Mon State, Chin State, Bago Region, Ayeyarwady Region, and Karen State. The detailed curriculum is enclosed.

1.4 Extended MMTI facilities in Thailand

MMTI also has expanded facilities in locations in Thailand, mainly Chiang Mai and Mae Sot, with plans for further expansion in Mae Sai/Chiang Rai. These extended facilities will allow Myanmar journalists, migrant workers, and political activists in those areas to receive training and capacity building.

The extended facility in Mae Sot is jointly operated with the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) of Chiang Mai University as part of the cooperation between RCSD and Mizzima. Training and language courses will be regularly organized at the facility. In addition, there will be a social engagement program for Myanmar political activists and journalists.

Extended facilities in Mae Sai/Chiang Rai will be run jointly with Mae Fah Luang University. Mizzima’s partner Mae Fah Luang University has been active in providing information and other services to Myanmar migrant workers in the area. Providing further information and education essential to Myanmar migrant workers will be the major focus of activities to be run via the extended facility in Mae Sai/Chiang Rai.

Training for amateur journalists to become working journalists in the country

Many journalists are in jail or have fled the country due to the crackdown against media and journalists by the junta since the military coup, and Mizzima journalists are among them. Many known journalists remaining in the country restrain from practicing their profession due to the high-security risk. The lack of working journalists in the country leads to the problem of an outflow of credible information from the country. It is important that there are working journalists in the country still reporting for Mizzima. For this purpose, amateur journalists who are unexposed to the junta will be trained to become working journalists. Mizzima will contract with them and assign them to work clandestinely from inside the country. Therefore, the training program for amateur journalists in the country is a combination of journalism training and assignments to let them become working journalists.

Amateur journalists are the ones who have started journalistic work and are unexposed because they are not known to the military authorities. Many independent media outlets, at least 20, ceased operations after the coup due to security risks. Many amateur journalists associated with those outlets that ceased operations are looking for job opportunities. They must be trained to become video journalists (VJs) who work alone throughout the process of information gathering to the editing and production of video news. What Mizzima, a broadcast media with a TV platform, needs is a pool of VJs in the country who can work independently to reduce risk. Transforming amateur journalists into working journalists is the only way to maintain and strengthen the outflow of credible information from inside the country.

Individual online training – Mizzima will assign an experienced consultant to conduct secure, online training for amateur journalists. Mizzima in-house trainers will also play important roles in the training of amateur journalists. Training will be conducted for each individual journalist separately due to security reasons. The trainers will rotate among different journalists. All newly trained journalists will be working individually to minimize the security risks with their daily work after the training. They will be reporting directly to senior Mizzima personnel outside the country. Mizzima aims to train several amateur journalists in the country and sign an employment contract with qualified ones for one year. Mizzima needs 12 of these working journalists.

Expected outputs of working journalists from inside Myanmar – Mizzima is diversifying its content to cover a wide range of thematic issues reflecting the real life of the people in Myanmar. The working journalists in the country will contribute a total of one hour of daily TV content with various thematic issues. They will provide media content in video format on various thematic issues, from business to politics, from daily ongoing conflicts to the suffering of the people.

Federalism education via Mizzima

3.1 Introduction – “Federalism” is today the most important keyword in Myanmar politics, especially after the military coup in February 2021. All domestic stakeholders in Myanmar politics unanimously agree that a future Myanmar must be a democratic nation based on federalism, or “Federal Democracy,” in short. Movements and demands for federalism in Myanmar intensified since 1990 during previous military rule, but federalism has never been unconditionally agreed upon like now.

Historically, Myanmar is supposed to have been exercising federalism since the post-independence era based on the Panlong Agreement signed between national hero General Aung San and ethnic leaders on 12 February 1947. However, the 1947 post-independent constitution spelled out only quasi-federalism for Myanmar. Many ethnic groups demanded that the 1947 constitution be amended to introduce genuine federalism. The period 1958-1962 is known as the period of the “federal movement” by the non-Bamar ethnic groups, which led to an agreement between Prime Minister of U Nu and ethnic leaders to transform quasi-federalism into genuine federalism. But General Ne Win considered the federal movement and federalism as a threat to the unity of the country and launched a coup on 2 March 1962. Since then, the Myanmar army and successive coup-maker governments have been propagating federalism as a disintegration of the country.

Throughout the ceasefire negotiations from 2011-2020 between the government and army on the one hand and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on the other, federalism was agreed upon in principle as the future goal of Myanmar’s political system. The mass resistance against the 2021 military coup has restrengthened the consensus for federal democracy in a free Myanmar. The National Unity Government (NUG) and various ethnic groups have unconditionally agreed upon federal democracy for Myanmar.

However, due to a weak education system and lack of media freedom and the free exchange of political views since the first military coup in 1962, the understanding of federalism among key players in Myanmar politics and the general public is very weak. And federalism is a process, not a one-time declaration of political desire. Every ethnic state has an important role to play in a working federalist system, in which political powers are divided and decentralized within various levels of government. All Myanmar citizens born after 1962, who may be about 75-85% of the country’s population, have experienced only a unitary system of government combined with totalitarian (1974-1988) and authoritarian (1988-2010) types of government since 1962. Despite there being partial democracy during 2011-2020, the government system was still unitary. A large majority of Myanmar’s population, 75-85%, thus have no idea about federalism.

Mizzima, in late 2021, broadcasted a series of federalism-related episodes. A Mizzima TV host interviewed 25 key players, including the Federal Affairs Minister and Minister of Justice of the NUG, and ethnic and Bamar political leaders, who explained why Myanmar needs federalism to end the civil war which coincided with independence in 1948. The main objective of this series is to remind the general public that federalism must be a cornerstone of the political system in a free Myanmar. All the interviewees were newsmakers/politicians who offered their opinion for free to Mizzima. The next step Mizzima should take is to strengthen education on federalism for the general public.

3.2 Federalism education in two folds

Media are crucial in informing and educating the general public about many complicated issues, including federalism. Currently, Myanmar media are covering political discussions, dialogues, debates, and initiatives in connection with establishing “Federal Democracy” for a free Myanmar. Such discussions, dialogues, debates, and initiatives have been ongoing. As such, the media must properly inform and educate the general public about federalism. There is demand for federalism education via media. To be able to educate upon federalism properly, Mizzima has designed federalism education in two folds to be implemented in the coming months.

International education for Mizzima journalists – Mizzima journalists must be educated about the key elements of federalism. Only when journalists themselves understand key elements of federalism, will they be able to cover federalism-related discussions, dialogues, debates, and initiatives properly and then inform and educate the general public about the federalism suitable for Myanmar. At the end of the training, journalists will be able to analyze federalism issues and produce media content for the public. A resource person will work with journalists during the training and content production process.

Education for the general public via Mizzima platforms – Mizzima will produce informative weekly 30-minute video episodes on federalism and distribute them across Mizzima distribution platforms, including TV, radio, online and social media. A Mizzima program host and two guests with rich knowledge of federalism will discuss key elements and characteristics of federalism in simple language. Infographics will be added to the show to visualize and simplify complicated issues. Tentative issues to be covered in this panel-style discussion include, but are not limited to, the division of power among various levels of government, the role of local governments in federalism, the formation of constituent units, various types of federal governments, a federal legislature with different roles for lower and upper houses, equality among the constituent units, an electoral system that can promote pluralistic representation, taxation, financial federalism, gender aspects in federalism, sovereignty, self-determination, and autonomy. Invited guests will provide a comparative overview of successful federalisms around the world, as well as failed federalisms.