Reporting history in Myanmar’s new era
By Andrew R.C. Marshall
Hundreds of foreign journalists are preparing to leave Myanmar after covering the by-elections that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide. Suu Kyi’s victory was historic, and so was the media interest: we represent the largest, legal deployment of foreign media to ever descend upon this long-isolated country.
I say “legal,” because scores of undercover journalists reported on the monk-led Saffron Revolution in 2007, which was brutally crushed by the military. That bloody event now seems impossibly distant.
Over the past few days, we journalists have waited in the sweltering, pre-monsoon heat to record Suu Kyi’s every word. We have moaned about the tourists whose cameras have blocked our view of history. (“Democracy tourism” is booming in Yangon: backpackers in NLD T-shirts are everywhere.) We have, in the case of a photographer from The Times, slipped into a muddy ditch outside a polling station, prompting Suu Kyi to stop, peer down and politely inquire, “Are you okay?”
And some of us — particularly those who have been covering Myanmar for many years — have pinched ourselves at what we’ve witnessed. I stood a few metres from Suu Kyi as she addressed hundreds of cheering supporters outside the NLD’s headquarters on Monday morning. Was it really only five years ago that soldiers were shooting protesters and beating monks?
“It is not so much our triumph as a triumph of the people,” she said. “We hope that this will be the beginning of a new era.”