Citizens become journalists in Burma

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Citizens become journalists in Burma

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

A media program that turns citizens and activists into professional journalists able to report on Burma, a country in crisis

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Burma (Myanmar) suffers from a serious lack of media freedom and a level of journalism that has been hampered by strict censorship over decades of military rule. Mizzima News Agency is a non-profit organization that is seeking to help provide news and analysis on Burma unhampered by the pen of the censor. Through its websites, printed journal, social media and VCDs, the agency is reaching out to the people of Burma in the belief that a free press engenders good governance and true democracy. It is said that even some members of the new government, still controlled behind the scenes by the military, read Mizzima's news, aware that it attempts to provide a balanced and factual appraisal of what is happening in Burma. On the one hand, reaching out to the people is constrained by the media avenues the agency can use, as well as the attempts by the government to clamp down on free media. On the other hand, the challenge is to find people who have the skills or willingness to learn to report in a dangerous environment where what is viewed as political activity can land a person in jail. Journalists are currently serving lengthy terms merely for doing their job.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Engaging news stories and in-depth analysis don’t happen without journalists. Mizzima seeks to train, organize and engage people in Burma to transition from citizen journalism and activism to become qualified reporters, able to provide stories under dangerous conditions. At the same time, Mizzima takes refugees with keenness and aptitude and trains them up to report on stories about the exile community and also stories that can be reported using sources in the country. Taking care with security, the news agency uses various means to get stories out of Burma using high-tech methods, as well as recording events through digital cameras, video and mobile phones. Mizzima is aware of the need for a long-term solution to help improve the state of journalism in the country. Although a so-called democratically-elected government has now taken power, behind the scenes the military still pulls the strings. It is estimated that it will take many years for true democracy to come to the country, and even at that stage, there will be a need for effective checks and balances to help the Burmese people monitor progress and development.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

There are three phases that have to be taken into account in seeing this project through. Firstly, training in journalism has to be provided, either in-country or abroad, that helps the citizens-turned-reporters report professionally using a mix of formats, including text, photos, videos and podcasts. Secondly, the media reports provided need to go beyond the rush of civic-spirited citizens who shot video using their mobile phones at the height of the crackdown on the 2007 Saffron Revolution demonstrations. Skills, when put into use, have to enable the reporter provide international standard reporting, while at the same time keeping an eye on safety. They need to follow a code of ethics. Thirdly, for reporters in Burma, the challenge is how to spirit their material out without being caught or the material being blocked. Here, the reporters are taught ways to evade the authorities and the censors - always stressing the safety of the reporter.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Mizzima is not alone in trying to report from behind the “bamboo curtain.” Their peers and competitors are the Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy magazine, both organizations dedicated to reporting the truth about Burma. Mizzima appears to differ on two levels. Firstly, the name “mizzima” means “middle way” and the agency tries to act where possible like an impartial source of news, rather than an advocate. Secondly, Mizzima is in for the long haul, seeking as part of its mission, to improve the state of journalism in Burma and promote free speech, a challenge that will remain even after full democracy is attained. Mizzima accepts there will be “leakage” in its training programs for journalists and editors, but hopes this will contribute to the overall development of the media in Burma, and the development of the society as a whole.
About You
Mizzima News Agency
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Mizzima News Agency

Organization Country

, DL

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Established (you've got demonstrated success)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

“Build reporting strength inside Burma” – this is what dawned on us after we had had success in training refugees living in India and Thailand to become professional journalists since 1998. We implemented a project namely "Strengthening Information Flow and Access between inside Burma and outside Burma" in 2006 by training Burmese to become citizen journalists. Mizzima's trained citizen photographers in Burma were able to send photos and short videos to Mizzima in Delhi and Chiang Mai offices and then to the international media when the Buddhist monks led the protests against the military government in September 2007. From then onwards, Mizzima's work of training citizens journalists has gained momentum with the latest project that was implemented in 2010 to cover the Burmese election with Ustream Live reporting, using trained citizen journalists and Mizzima's reporters as well as using new media platforms such as Facebook. With the increased use of IT and social media platforms in Burma, it is important for Burma to utilize this opportunity for greater awareness of the citizens in Burma.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

For Mizzima News Agency, the situation is both encouraging and challenging. The agency runs two news websites, one in Burmese and one in English, that have built a substantial following with approximately 100,000 unique visitors a month to the Burmese site, and about 40,000 to the English language site. But the success has come quickly, spurred by demonstrations in 2007, a horrific cyclone in 2008, an election in 2010, and the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of 2010. This put a great strain on the organization and highlighted the need for more effective programs to empower staff and stringers with the skills to report professionally and relatively safely, providing people in Burma a window on what was happening in their country, and an insight for the many concerned people living in other countries. Mizzima stories are quoted and used by the international media and government and non-governmental organizations around the world. But there is much still to be done to offer the depth of coverage that the crisis in Burma deserves.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

Ironically, the installation of a “democratically-elected government” means this is not the time to take attention off Burma. Predicting what will happen over the next few years is impossible. Mizzima hopes it can step up and improve its efforts to train reporters, both inside and outside Burma, with the aim to improve and expand the work it is doing to inform the Burmese people and the outside world what is really happening in the country. With this project, Mizzima hopes to produce leaders and managers in Burma, who establish and lead civil society organizations that focus on media development issues.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Mizzima takes care to chart and quantify its success. One method it will use is to monitor the number and quality of stories

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Meet, train and prepare small groups of trainee reporters in Burma - underway in July 2011

Task 2

Encourage initial stories, with particular focus on corruption, economy, effect of sanctions

Task 3

Bring a few trainee reporters for training in India or Thailand

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Monitor and encourage reports from Burma-based trainees, vs reports from reporters outside in India and Thailand

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Check quality of reporting and look for weak points that need improvement

Task 2

Follow up with more in-country training and feedback

Task 3

Seek to identify good performers; offer help to those struggling; assess who wants to continue and develop further

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured


What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

Mizzima is grateful for the donor support it receives but funding remains a problem. Finding suitable candidates interested in learning the skills to become a journalist and work in sometimes difficult conditions is a challenge. Staff turnover amongst staff living in exile can be a problem, as some people attempt to leave for resettlement in a third country. Mizzima is in the process of developing a career path within the organization, and setting up positions of authority and competence that are recognized in terms of job description and compensation.

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

Mizzima is consciously aware of the dramatic change that could and will take place in Burma in terms of communication and media over the next decade. Mizzima is seeking to ride that wave in terms of ambitious goals to reach out to a far bigger audience, as well as use technologies to publish on various platforms, including “old style” VCDs and DVDs for content distribution, and the revolution that will take place in information distribution using mobile phones and other evolving digital applications.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

Much depends on number of staff and funding. There will be times when the news agency is challenged in terms of funding, and in recognition of this, the organization is exploring increased monetization of the websites and sales of information products and services. The aim is to develop a media organization that can weather the storm and transition from a non-profit to a commercial media organization that maintains its high standards.

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Mizzima continues to retain good contact with donors, and seeks to find new donors, both to support core costs and special projects. In addition, it is seeking to monetize its websites and develop the sale of products and services.

Tell us about your partnerships

Our donors are:
The National Endowment for Democracy
The Open Society Foundation

Our partners are:
International Media Support
South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Burma Relief Center
Euro Burma Office
People in Need

We are also a member of IFEX

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?

Mizzima News Agency relies on dedicated and enthusiastic staff and stringers willing to work for limited compensation. It tries as much as possible to engender a team spirit, a family spirit, in the recognition that those involved are working for the people of Burma and that providing good news stories really can make a difference.

Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Human resources or talent, Marketing or media, Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Pro-bono help (legal, financial, etc.), Innovation or ideas, Mentorship.

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Human resources or talent, Research or information, Collaboration or networking.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list

Mizzima seeks a mutual partnership with regional and international institutions in establishing a free Burma media landscape in a better, democratic Burma.

Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

Media training aimed at providing in-depth news from Burma, under one of the most oppressive regimes in the world