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Cablegate: Cultivating the Fourth Estate

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. The Rangoon American Center hosted Burma's first
journalism training course, conducted by the Indochina Media
Memorial Foundation (IMMF), an independent media support
foundation based in Thailand, November 10 to 23, 2003. The
two-week course was designed to introduce young journalists
to the highest standards of international journalism, to
sharpen their writing and reporting skills, while raising
their awareness of ethical issues and the journalist's role
in society. PAS Rangoon selected 12 participants from four
of the leading quasi-independent publications in the
country, those who struggle to print real news while
contending with the regime's censor board. The program
supported two MPP goals: Gaining Acceptance for U.S.
Institutions and Values, and Supporting Democracy and Human

2. The participants, ranging in age from 20 to 35, included
seven women and five men. (Because of Burmese government
policy making it difficult for women to get passports, only
Burmese men have been able to participate in IMMF's past
training sessions in Cambodia and Thailand, thus our
emphasis on including women.) They are working journalists
at four of Rangoon's leading privately owned newspapers: 7
Day News Journal, Kumudra News Journal, Living Color
Business Magazine, and Today Media Group. We call these
publications "quasi-independent" because all content here,
even that of privately owned media (including publications
of the American Center), must be passed by the Ministry of
the Interior's Press Scrutiny Board.

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3. Trainer Jeff Hodson led two weeks of intensive hands-on
training in journalistic skills. Using discussion,
lectures, videos, case studies, individual feedback from the
instructor, group critiques, and a variety of
reporting/writing assignments, the participants practiced
bread-and-butter skills such as interview techniques, how to
write a strong lead, how to recognize good quotes from bad
quotes, and how to write a good profile. And they debated
journalism ethics, international journalism standards, and
the role of the journalist in their society. They discussed
Burma's unique press environment and their particular
difficulty of how to predict what the Press Scrutiny Board
will allow to be published.

4. The training course was held in a classroom of the
American Center's English Teaching Program designed and
wired for such training sessions. Because they easily fit
in with our usual English Class crowd, the journalists
aroused no suspicion with the Military Intelligence who sit
outside the American Center gate. An added benefit of
post's robust English Teaching Program is the ability to
hold this and other types of training sessions without
rousing the regime's attention. This type of training
could be replicated in Mandalay, as well, if a branch
American Center is opened there.

5. COMMENT: In a country that has no press freedom, there
has been no institution to provide training to the people
working for the quasi-independent media in Burma. Thus, the
younger generation of journalists has to rely on on-the-job
training by their chief editors, the majority of whom have
not received any systematic journalism training themselves.
The training offered a rare opportunity for young
journalists to get real training and gave them exposure for
the very first time to international standards of
journalism. The journalists, their editors, and the
American Center are all eager to repeat this type of
training and to take it further. We will be working with
the IMMF as well as Internews, both of whom receive Economic
Support Funds (ESF), to increase opportunities for this type
of training inside Burma.

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