Saturday, March 21. (Photo by Adam Vogler)

Saw Yan Naing

Yangon, Myanmar

The Irrawaddy magazine

Host:Tribe Media/The Jewish Journal

Karen State native wants to start ethnic media enterprise

After surviving civil wars in 1990s, Saw Yan Naing and his family were forced to flee their remote village in eastern Burma’s Karen State when it was under  attack by army soldiers, and he lived for years in refugee camps across the border in Thailand.

“Life in the camps was extremely difficult for our family,” Naing wrote in a column for The Irrawaddy. “As a young Karen I had few opportunities to get proper education, nor did I have legal status in Thailand, or even guarantees of safety.”

Naing made the most of his big opportunity — a journalism training course in northern Thailand — and eventually was hired by The Irrawaddy, an English-language publication that covers Burma, officially called Myanmar, and other areas of southeast Asia.

But he remained an exile. The Myanmar military regime banned The Irrawaddy and other independent media, so Naing and his colleagues were forced to operate in Thailand.

“I decided to stay in Thailand and find a way to follow and uncover the events and struggle that Burma’s dissidents and ethnic minorities were experiencing under the country’s brutal and repressive military regime,” he wrote.

With signs of political change and a loosening of media censorship, the magazine recently moved back to Burma. Naing is now working out of the Yangon news office as well as the Chiang Mai office across the border. His articles typically focus on ethnic issues, human rights, social developments, and refugee affairs in Myanmar and along the Thai-Myanmar border.

Aung Zaw, The Irrawaddy editor-in-chief, said Naing, 30, played a key leadership role in The Irrawaddy’s reporting on the ethnic conflict and peace process in Burma.

“Through his assertiveness, perseverance, and extensive reporting experience, he has developed high-level sources within ethnic armed groups in the Thai-Myanmar border area, ethnic community leaders, and civil society groups in Myanmar, which lead to accurate, insightful and in-depth reporting on such issues,”  Zaw said.

In addition to running the organization’s daily news coverage, Naing guides junior reporters in the newsroom, oversees the magazine’s digital media products, covers breaking news in the field and writes in-depth stories. He also contributes to the Asia Times Online, the Bangkok Post and Al Jazeera, among other international publications. He writes articles in English, Karen and Burmese.

Naing was completing his studies in Chiang Mai back in 2004 when he became one of the first ethnic Karen reporters from Myanmar picked for The Irrawaddy’s journalism training course. Naing was selected for an internship at the Network Media Group, where he then became a staff reporter. He later interned at The Irrawaddy Magazine and went on to become a staff reporter.

Naing has actively pursued his broad interests in journalism through domestic and international media trainings and seminars in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia. He plans to eventually  launch his own independent ethnic Karen media venture, Salween Cable. The publication aims to provide more in ­-depth and analytical coverage on social developments, human rights abuses, environment and armed conflicts especially in ethnic minority regions.

“As big media organizations in Burma are mostly run by ethnic Burman who often lack of deep understanding and knowledge about ethnic tradition, culture and political background of ethnic minorities, I think it is necessary to have an independent and professional ethnic media to speak for the minorities,” Naing wrote in his fellowship application.

If his plan doesn’t come to fruition, the young journalist plans to start a special features and investigative program at The Irrawaddy.

During his fellowship, he will work at the Tribe Media, a company founded in Los Angeles by Alfred Friendly Foundation board member Rob Eshman, and at its main publication, Jewish Journal.

Tatiana Darie