JMSC Research Seminar: The Freedom of Critical Thinking: News Literacy Education in Authoritarian States in Asia
27 February 2015
17 March 2015

Education in responsible journalism urgently required in Myanmar and other authoritarian Asian states

Decades of military rule have left Myanmar with a “severe” shortage of journalists, and an urgent need for journalism and news literacy education taught with an emphasis on balanced, ethical reporting, according to JMSC Associate Professor Masato Kajimoto.

“There is a severe lack of local journalism educators and journalists after fifty years of military rule,” Kajimoto said during a JMSC research seminar, held March 6, on teaching news literacy in authoritarian states.  He was discussing his findings from a recent news literacy study he conducted across Vietnam, Malaysia and Myanmar.

He said any journalism training in Myanmar should emphasise the importance of accuracy, following recent violence that was been fueled by the spread of false rumours.  “There is a buzz word that I heard again and again (in Myanmar): responsible journalism, ethical journalism…Reporting responsibly is a matter of life and death there.”

20150306_MasatoLunchSeminar04Kajimoto held teaching workshops and focus groups in all three countries, and his findings will help develop a news literacy programme to teach Asian audiences how to critically assess news for accuracy and authenticity.  The programme here will be based on one originally developed by Stonybrook University in the United States.

He said his trip had reinforced the importance of understanding local context when adapting literacy training internationally, as “even basic concepts like ‘what is journalism?’ can be difficult in a country where they don’t have a free press.”

The research showed that students in countries with high levels of government media control may find it difficult to distinguish between news and propaganda.  And, Kajimoto said, fear of government repercussions can affect journalistic behaviour.

“In Vietnam, source evaluation for credibility doesn’t necessarily work because even if a source has the knowledge of a subject, they may not want to say that to the media,” he said. “Journalists may also self-censor their content, because they don’t want to get people into trouble, and that has to be included in our education.”

Socio-economic factors also play a large role in adapting news literacy education in authoritarian countries, according to Kajimoto.  He found that students who attend government-funded public schools are generally less open-minded about press freedom than students from wealthier families with access to a more liberal education.

He said that regardless of overall findings, each country will require its own curriculum, based on its individual circumstances. “There are some fundamental differences between Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia that make a big difference when you design a curriculum to talk about journalism and news,” Kajimoto concluded.