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Burma Journal: Journeys Through A Changing Myanmar

Posted: 06/13/2013 1:07 pm

By Jay T. Snyder
Founder, The Open Hands Initiative

This is an exciting week for the Open Hands Initiative. Our OHI team has just arrived in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where we are sponsoring a three-week journalism fellowship in partnership with the Ground Truth Project and GlobalPost.

From over 400 applicants, we selected 20 top, young journalists from Burma and the U.S. to participate in this program entitled "Burma Telling Its Own Story." The fellowship will include hands-on training in photography and videography, as well as components of writing and radio broadcasting taught by highly respected journalists from around the globe. The instructor team, led by Charlie Sennott and Gary Knight, also includes journalists Philip Blenkinsop, Dennis Gray, Marc Laban and Michael Sullivan.

The fellows will hear from government leaders, academics, historians and diplomats. They will talk with Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the US Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell. While the program begins in Yangon, we will also send the fellows on journeys across Burma to experience and report on all this beautiful and rapidly changing country has to offer.

I have a few goals--albeit ambitious ones--for this program and our OHI Fellows. My sincere hope for these exceptionally talented young people is that this will be an intensely rewarding and memorable experience. I want OHI Fellows to produce great journalism, to improve their craft and to be inspired by the wisdom and leadership of our extraordinary instructors. I want them to get to know and understand each other in the true spirit of fellowship. I am hopeful that the friendships they form are lasting and able to withstand any specific political differences between our two nations furthering the OHI mission of people to people diplomacy.

Just a few years ago, a program like this would have been unthinkable but it actually has roots in Burma's more distant past. Sixty years ago, in the parliamentary democracy period after Burma won independence from Britain, there was a vibrant free press with daily papers printed in Burmese, English, Indian and Chinese.

Today, after several decades of government-controlled media, Burma is at the dawn of a new era of press freedom: access to short-wave radio and satellite television is increasing; formerly exiled media organizations have begun opening outlets in the country; and access to the Internet is improving. There are now four daily newspapers in print and an additional 11 that have been granted licenses for daily publication.

A free and independent press in Burma will play a critical role in strengthening its transition to building a civil society by ensuring government actions are transparent and accountable to the people. But with this power comes an awesome responsibility for the press to be fair and accurate. To be credible, the press must be professional and unbiased.

While Burma still has a long road to travel on its journey to be a free and open society, it is our hope that the OHI Fellowship program will help to lay the foundation for a new generation of journalists in a democratic Burma. The Open Hands Initiative is excited to be a small part of the effort to help Burma begin to tell its own story.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Open Hands Initiative and GlobalPost. The project sets out to tell the story of a rapidly changing Myanmar (also known as Burma) by bringing together 20 top, young reporters from the United States and from Myanmar to work together as a team on a GlobalPost Special Report to be titled "Burma Telling Its Own Story." Along the way, we will document what these young journalists are learning about the place and about each other. To learn more about "Burma Journal" and to follow the live GroundTruth in Burma blog, click here.

 
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