In remarks to young journalism fellows in the capital of Naypyidaw, 'The Lady' urged a renaissance of 'old fashioned' journalistic values including accuracy and great storytelling.
As part of a reporting fellowship hosted in partnership between Open Hands Initiative and GlobalPost, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a group of 20 top, young journalists from Myanmar and the United States at Royal Kumudra Hotel in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on June 27, 2013.
After welcoming remarks from GlobalPost's Charles M. Sennott, Aung San Suu Kyi was introduced by Open Hands Initiative Chairman and Founder Jay Snyder, who welcomed her as part of OHI's mission for public diplomacy.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I would like to thank Mr. Snyder and Mr. Sennott for making it possible to do what I wanted us to do together, what I hoped we would do together after a very short meeting back in the United States and now it has come to this.
Greater freedom means greater responsibility, greater challenges and so we need greater wisdom to deal with the new opportunities that are open to us. When I was trying to think today of what I should speak about, I was struck by what has been said about GlobalPost, that they are trying to promote the enduring qualities of great journalism. That is, integrity, accuracy, independence and great storytelling…
Start with integrity. Integrity is so important, especially at this time in our country when we have suddenly been exposed to many challenges and opportunities which are people could not have dreamed of just a few years ago … We need integrity to make sure we stay on the right path and do not misuse our opportunities and our rights. Rights have to be backed up by responsibilities. Otherwise, they can do more harm than good.
And this is why the training of journalists is so important, and media training is so important. Media has immense influence on the people these days and so we want our young journalists, and not so young journalists, to be trained to make themselves fit into the tradition of great journalism, integrity, accuracy, independence and powerful storytelling … As I said, integrity is important to begin with.
When I was under house arrest, I would listen to the radio six hours a day to make sure I was not missing out on anything that was happening in the big world. And I learned very soon that most journalists who claim to be independent observers, were not independent at all. And I find that that means there was no integrity. I would much prefer if they would say that they were spokespersons for particular organizations or particular political groups or parties because that made it quite clear where they stood and we could listen to what they were saying within a particular framework of what kind of path they were walking.
And they were honest about it. But there were others who claimed to be totally independent observers of the scene, but they were not independent at all. They had their own agendas. … And after listening to a particular person being interviewed no more than three times, you get to know where he or she is headed and what he or she is trying to promote. So integrity and accuracy and independence are all linked. If you are really independent, integrity follows …
Now accuracy may not follow. But that depends I think on a lot of hard work as well. Sometimes it is not irresponsibility or a lack of integrity, but laziness that leads to inaccurate reports. I have heard of journalists — I don't know if any body else in the room has heard of the same kind of journalist — who never go out of their hotel rooms but send out very, very long reports daily. Of course, it is not a great surprise if these reports are not very accurate.
So accuracy I think has a lot to do with perseverance and an ability for hard work … But integrity and independence, they are linked. If you are not independent, in the sense that if you are attached intellectually or emotionally or materially to particular organizations and interest groups than I think it will be difficult for you to practice complete integrity as a journalist. And powerful storytelling, that does not come to all of us naturally …
But I think one does learn and, of course, that is what courses in journalism are all about, how to present your story in a way that will interest your readers, interest your audience wherever you may be. You do need to capture the interest if you are to convey to them the message that you wish to convey … And I think every good journalist wants to convey a message. They have to have this desire otherwise they will not become powerful storytellers. They have to have this desire to communicate with others.
But communication is a two-way process and a really good journalist is a good listener. Unless he or she is a good listener and a good observer, then he or she cannot become a good journalist. Because if you are not ready to let other communicate people to you, then you will not be able to communicate to them what you are trying to communicate.
I think GlobalPost uses the word ‘old fashioned’ with regard to their ideals, their motto. I have to say I am old fashioned in the same way. I do believe that things like integrity and accuracy are important and I do think it is important that people use their talents and their influence for good rather than for bad. Now, of course, there are those who will say, “How can we decide what is good and what is bad?” Sometimes, it is not easy. We have to accept that. Sometimes it is very difficult to tell what is right or what is wrong in a particular situation. And sometimes there is more than one answer.
There can be two answers which are equally right or equally wrong, if you’d like. But you have to choose one that you believe is least harmful. I think that is where your integrity comes from and your independence where you decide for yourself, and not because somebody is pressing your or because you owe somebody a favor but because you think this is the right decision to make.
So what we would like are great journalists, but their greatness should be firmly rooted in integrity and the desire to make our world a better place to live in. That is a very old fashioned idea, but I don’t think this is an idea that will ever really go out of fashion. We need to make the world that we live in a better one.
All of you know that our country is facing many challenges. It’s not roses all the way, it is never a flower-strewn path, as we would say in Burma, or as you would say in English, a bed of roses. It comes to the same thing, life is not always easy. Sometimes when people think it is the best of times, it is often the most difficult times. It is like catching the tide … If you catch the tide at the right time, that will make you progress very quickly. But if you happen to get in at the wrong time or the wrong place things go very, very wrong.
So we have to be more discerning than ever, wiser than ever, and we have to be braver than ever. Some people think we have gotten over the worst, that the really difficult times are over. But I keep repeating that they have only just begun … It is easier to work for opportunities that do not yet exist, then to misuse the opportunities. If you misuse the opportunities that are available to you then you will face real difficulties, than you are set back much further than before the chances were open to you.
So I would like our young journalists and our young friends from overseas who are helping us in every way that they can, to make sure that we cultivate the values of a truly free, truly democratic society. I would like to urge all of you to be aware of the challenges, not to underestimate them and to do your best to help us in going forward. Going forward means first of all you have to know where you want to go and how you want to get there. It’s not enough just to know where you want to go, you have to decide how you want to get there. And this I think is the great difficulty today for our country. How are we going to get to where we want to go to? Everybody says we want to have full democracy, we want a free society, we want freedom of speech, freedom of expression, all sorts of rights.
But I am a bit of a wet blanket because I keep saying, “How about the responsibilities?” You keep talking about rights, rights, rights, but you have got to be aware of your responsibilities. Unless you are prepared to shoulder you responsibilities, you will not be able to attain your rights.
There will come a time when they slip away from you because you have not been prepared to shoulder the necessary responsibilities. So life is always a coin with rights on one side and responsibility on the other. I would like particularly those in the media to be aware of this because they have tremendous rights and tremendous opportunities to change our world and because of that their responsibilities are greater than, for example, the people photographed.
You have to get their stories out to the world. When I was looking at the set of photographs of Inle Lake, there was a few questions I wanted to ask. I wanted to know how much of the environmental damage was due to the local people and how much to others who had come as tourists or as businessmen. We have to be practical and we have to be prepared to face our own weaknesses. And I think a lot of the damage to our environment is done by ourselves. … You see mounds and mounds of litter every where and if you go out into the country side it is even worse.
I have seen the most beautiful areas, I have seen lovely clear streams chalk-a-block full of garbage … plastic bags and other kinds of litter, anything just thrown into the stream. And when our environmentalists call for preservation of our environment, I wish they would start by not throwing around litter themselves … and that they would teach their neighbors and people around them not to be litterbugs.
Let’s start with the easy, obvious things. Let’s start with assuming responsibilities ourselves. I would like our journalists to take the same practical approach. I think high ideals are very good in journalism and you need them. But you also need to be extremely down to earth, if what you write or what you say or what you video and show to other people is to make a difference to our lives. …
Thank you very much for everything you have done to try to help our young journalists to tread the right path, and I would like our young journalists to remember that the path is very, very long and that they will have to have the stamina and the will to carry on until our country is truly safe, safe because we are deeply rooted in the best values of democracy and freedom.
Thank you (Applause.)
[*Note: This is a not a complete transcript of the remarks by Aung San Suu Kyi. It does not include the Q&A session in which OHI-GlobalPost reporting fellows asked questions. And several sections were edited to remove inaudible remarks.]