This statement was originally published on mizzima.com on 8 August 2021.
Mizzima Media is celebrating its 23rd Anniversary on 9 August in reporting and broadcasting the stories that matter in Myanmar.
In the following interview, Mizzima Founder and Editor in Chief Soe Myint discusses his challenging journey over the last two decades.
As a founder of Mizzima Media, can you please tell us about how Mizzima Media was started?
Mizzima Media was founded in New Delhi, India in August 1998. We can also say that it originated from the 1988 People Power Uprising (Democracy Uprising). Founded by me (U Soe Myint) and Co-Founder Daw Thin Thin Aung, the initial goal of our Mizzima Media was to provide timely information to Myanmar citizens and international communities about the situation in Myanmar, how Myanmar people had been suffering under the military junta and the democracy and human rights movements of the Myanmar people.
During that time, the international community barely knew about Myanmar. Some people even mistook our country ‘Burma’ with ‘Bahamas’ and they also had not heard of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. There were even some people who had heard of her name, they couldn’t speak her full name and said it was too long. They just knew her as ‘The Lady’. That’s why we founded Mizzima Media to spread the information among Myanmar citizens in the country as well as across the international communities about the situation and struggles of the Myanmar people under the military junta.
What are the differences between now and 23 years ago since Mizzima was founded?
When we look back 23 years, to the time of August 1998, when the internet was starting to appear and there was limited use of computers, Mizzima was one of the very first media who used the internet and was able to broadcast the news, even in the Asia region, when people were starting to learn and use computers. At that time, social media was not widely used like now and media and media houses were only in cinemas and television. Television was broadcast in only black and white in most of the countries and it was a time of cutting and pasting with large tapes for radio, pressing was like drawing the picture first and pasting it onto the paper then produced with a photostat. That was what it was like 23 years ago.
It is very different between then and now. After 23 years, the first significant change is technology and social media. The news and information flow were not rapid and not effective in those days as social media was not widely spread.
The second thing would be that most of the people from the international community was not aware of Myanmar. Especially developments happening in the rural areas could not be known easily as the news flow was slow. The next thing was the stakeholders. At that time Daw Thin Thin Aung and I founded Mizzima with the young generation. That young generation came into the media industry not because they were professional but because they had the passion and interest to do so. They were so far away from studying video editing, journalism and broadcasting. Along the way by working with passion, they’d learned what is journalism, languages and video editing.
Now, referring to the current situation, the young generation is really smart, especially, during the last 10 years, they could study editing and journalism to a certain extent, at journalism schools. Here, what I would like to point out is that they are talented at this, unlike the situation 23 years ago. We only did what we thought was right in the past. And most importantly, now there are in existence many media platforms. Back then, the media platforms such as the press and websites took too long to surf because of the bad connection speed.
Now after 23 years, Mizzima has a variety of media platforms. Including the satellite TV channels, Mizzima now has social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Press Media and Mizzima Applications, with a total of more than 20 million viewers and readers on various media platforms. It is a result of building it up step by step for a period of the last 23 years and it is also the outcome of the effort and struggle by the co-workers of Mizzima for a long time. Now we have expertise in each area for various media platforms and we no longer need to give training. And today, there are active young people from all walks of life who can do it. Especially, the spirit – it will be the same if we compare the spirit of the young generation of today to spirit of young people 23 years ago. People who do not want to suffer injustice, who love freedom, who love freedom of the media and people who will fight. The only difference is that time and circumstance have improved over time.
Mizzima Media was established by two 88 student activists. So, during this 2021 Military Coup, how is Mizzima proceeding through these difficulties and what challenges is Mizzima facing now?
We witnessed a coup d’etat for the first time in 1988 and this is the second time we are facing this situation. We have been determined to bring the people of Myanmar democratic human rights since 1988. Mizzima was founded in 1998, 10 years after the 88 Revolution. What we assumed when we came back to Myanmar as an exile media organization in 2012 was that we were still on the path to achieving democracy. We only had the limited space of democratic human rights to some extent at that time. We intended to proceed to the attainment of democracy like we did when we were overseas throughout those years. We always had in mind that the military government could always seize power at any time. We will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening again, however we can see that they tried to regain the power that they forcefully seized according to the 2008 Constitution without giving up any power. We were asked a question during the 2018 licensing interview for Mizzima TV about what the future plans of Mizzima would be if the military coup happened again. I answered on behalf of Mizzima TV that we will keep running Mizzima in any way that we can. We were prepared for the injustice of the military. These challenges were no different from those we faced since the establishment of Mizzima in 1998.
The biggest hurdle has to be our employees’ safety working for our Mizzima platforms, especially journalists who stream live on the streets because the military dictator nowadays does not just detain the journalists themselves but people that are related to them. We appreciate their effort and eagerness to pursue their job but we are concerned about their safety.
The second one has to be financial stability. We were sustained on commercial and subscription incomes. Only by the end of 2020, did we have a stable income. We lost all sources of income since the February 1 Military Coup. We had to seek help from the international community to deal with the second challenge. The employees are always on the move to safer locations for the first challenge. We had to take safety measures for applications and software technology.
As for the third and final challenge, that is for Mizzima to return to Myanmar as a free media organization. We are faced by the challenge of broadcasting freely and safely because the military junta revoked our license.
Free media and democracy always go together just like the ‘head and tail’ of a coin. Free media and democracy are codependent on each other. And the lack of free media in Myanmar is a challenge for its democratic pathway and the lack of democracy is a challenge for us as media people.
What would you like to say regarding or on behalf of the cofounder Daw Thin Thin Aung and other colleagues at MIzzima who has been detained by the junta?
Since February 1, when the junta seized control over the whole country, the first thing they did was shut down the free to air Mizzima TV channel and DVB channel without prior notice.
What this shows is that the junta does not allow free speech from the media as their first step to taking over the country.
The next step they took was on March 8, when they halted the airing license from all the private TV channels including Mizzima TV channel.
And on March 9, the junta vandalized the Mizzima headquarters with a heavy force. Later, on March 27, the Thanlyin police station charged Mizzima with 505(A) and arrested 12 of Mizzima’s employees responsible for supposedly illegal broadcasting against the will of the junta. I was also included in the warrant list as Editor in Chief.
However, Daw Thin Thin Aung, who was a co-founder of Mizzima TV and had already left her role as the Director, and our other colleague James Pu Thoure, who left his role an Assistant Manager on March 8, were irrelevantly detained and tortured by the junta.
I wouldn’t have minded if they actually arrested someone responsible like me, but instead they chose to detain the people who are not responsible and irrelevant from the narrative. They also froze all the bank accounts and assets related to Mizzima.
On top of that, they have also charged 18 employees of Mizzima with 505(A) with four employees already being detained and among the four, one was sentenced to two years in prison. The junta has been oppressing the rights of people since day one and still continues to do so. However, using our TV channels and other media platforms, Mizzima will continue to run our operations.
What are your expectations for Mizzima media in future?
I am now 54 years old and I was thinking to take retirement at that age actually. But I will have to continue working just to accomplish my duties. I suffered from cancer before the military coup. And my biggest concern that time when I had surgery was who is going to lead Mizzima media if I die.
But when the military coup took place in February, I found a clear answer. When I take retirement or when I am gone from Mizzima, there a lot of people out there who will lead and continue working for Mizzima. That’s not even one or two persons. It’s a lot – mostly the youths who are capable of taking responsibility for any duties. This is called collective leadership and they have the ability to take responsibility when the duties come. So, my concern for the future of Mizzima media when I am not able to work there anymore was gone when I found that out.
And the next thing is our Mizzima media have the four code of ethics that our colleagues read out every day before dinner.
The first one is Mizzima will always stand with the Myanmar people and the truth as well whatever the situation is. We will overcome any difficulties and challenges and will always stand with the people and truth.
And the second one is we will never forget the sacrifice employees from Mizzima and the persons who have been detained by the military who are in prison.
That’s why we will try on a daily basis to keep standing in Myanmar as a free and independent media outlet. This is our third code of ethics.
And the fourth one is: we are from Yangon, raised in Yangon and our head office was also in Yangon. So, we want to open our head office back in Yangon and meet all our colleagues altogether in Yangon one day.
These are all our expectations, code of ethics and also what we are doing right now.
As a Founder, what would like to say on this Mizzima 23rd Anniversary occasion?
There’s nothing special that I want to say.
To all Mizzima’s viewers, our ex-colleagues, our colleagues, and our supporters, I just really want to convey my sincere thanks and appreciation.
Because without all of your views, your hard work, your help and your support, Mizzima wouldn’t be here at this time.
Currently, Mizzima is standing as Myanmar’s independent top media.
In terms of numbers of viewership, readership, page performance, we are one of the top performers.
This is not just because of me and Daw Thin Thin Aung as founders.
It is everyone’s strong support, views and help.
Especially the anonymous ones, these are the people from inside the country, outside of the country. Thank you for your firm support.
If we continue our unity like this, I believe Myanmar is going to get its democracy and human rights. Let’s support each other to reach our goals. Thank you.
Source: MEDIA FEED