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Exiled, not silenced: amplifying the voices of Myanmar’s ethnic communities while boosting grassroots journalism

This article is part of WAN-IFRA’s Editor to Editor series. In this interview, Asia Regional Laureate Nan Paw Gay, director and editor-in-chief of the Karen Information Center in Myanmar, shares her journey in exile with Lucinda Jordaan

Asia Regional Laureate Nan Paw Gay is director and editor-in-chief, Karen Information Center (KIC), Myanmar, and chairperson of the newly formed Independent Press Council Myanmar. She is also the executive director and spokesperson for Burma News International, a key ethnic media coalition that brings together independent media groups reporting on ethnic communities of Myanmar. Nan Paw Gay’s career as journalist and media developer began over two decades ago, with independent news agency Karen Information Centre. For years, she reported for them from the Thai-Myanmar border, exposing human rights violations in the region, including the use of sexual violence against women as a tool of war. A graduate and former nursery school teacher who had lived and worked in Bangkok, she also worked for the Karen Women Organisation (KWO), to deepen her understanding of gender issues, an association she maintains to this day.

Paw Gay has been actively developing grassroots journalism in a region where ethnic minorities have struggled to have their stories heard in the face of the dominant community’s influence. In 2011, she set up Karen News, the English-language service of KIC, to reach a wider audience. In 2018, she was awarded the Women Champion in Social Work Award by KWO. Now in exile, Paw Gay’s commitment to advancing the voices of the ethnic minorities in Myanmar continues.

The Karen News home page.

You have played a major role in not only amplifying the voices of the Karen ethnic group in Myanmar, but also creating and growing grassroots journalism in the area. What have been your biggest wins?
Mainly, that we have a strong community, and the target audience’s trust – that is our big win; that other media platforms accept that our news stories are accurate and reliable. Another big win is that our loyal audience is not only Karen, but also other ethnic people in Myanmar, and that media in neighbouring countries, and international media agencies, trust our information.

Myanmar’s media and political landscape is dire. Is there hope that independent news outlets can keep telling the story when many journalists have been forced into exile?
After the military coup, the independent media could no longer carry out their news business safely and freely inside the country. So, we had to move to a safe area to work to give news to the public. Therefore, I could say that we are still able to tell the stories as the exile media better than under Myanmar’s Special Advisory Council (SAC) or State Administration Council.

You yourself are in exile. What does this mean for you, and what are your daily challenges?
My daily challenges are: monitoring the daily newsroom management with a group and, individually, confirming the primary information, encouraging the reporters’ mental health, and being mindful of the impact of our news stories after they are posted.

Paw Gay’s interview with Colonel Tun Tun Lat, the chief strategist of the military
council based in the Karen State, which surrendered on 5th April.

Despite severe limitations, you’ve managed to expose human rights violations, and report on issues beyond your community; what is the most memorable interview or coverage you’ve done?
This would be an interview with Colonel Tun Tun Lat, the chief strategist of the military council based in the Karen State, which surrendered on 5 April with a force of more than 600 people. This SAC colonel committed human rights violations in other regions in Myitkyina, Kachin State, before arriving in Karen State.

As chairperson of the new Independent Press Council, what do you hope to achieve – and can this have any impact under the current regime?
Myanmar Independent Press Council represents independent media. We aim to promote the value of independent media which is not a propaganda tool, and to promote freedom of expression in the country. At the moment, we are working on successfully promoting the media code of conduct, and media and information literacy for our readers, and within the respected communities. I believe that our success might influence, and have a positive impact on these community groups. 

Note: Women in News Editorial Leadership Award Laureates Dima Khatib, Betrice  Bandawe and Nan Paw Gay were recognised at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark, in May this year.

(By special arrangement with WAN-IFRAThe writer is an independent media consultant with extensive experience in all media sectors and on all publishing platforms, from print and digital to film and broadcast. She now freelances as a writer, editor, consultant and coach: providing full-suite media and communications services to media enterprises and agencies. She regularly writes for the WAN-IFRA World Editors Forum.)