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On the 26th May, UNFPA, in coordination with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Myanmar Journalist Institution (MJI), held a data journalism seminar in Yangon. The seminar was attended by representatives from the government and leading local media houses, non-governmental organizations working in the field of media development, journalism professors, and journalism trainees, among other. The seminar was the culmination of a three week training project for local journalists on data research, analysis, and presentation skills, including using open sourced data fusion software.  The goal was to develop the data research and reference skills of local journalists to write articles integrating data from the census and other sources and present it in a way that is both interesting and understandable to readers.

The seminar focused on the development of data journalism in Myanmar. For decades, gaining access to data has been a tedious and time consuming task. The data now available from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census will certainly help in advancing data journalism. Ms. Janet E. Jackson in her opening remarks said: “This data can support journalists to produce analytical and thought provoking stories on issues relating to social development, rather than sensational stories based on rumour. A high standard of reporting means that the people of Myanmar will be better informed and more engaged in civil society. So supporting journalists to use the census data means supporting the people of Myanmar to become engaged citizens.”        

U Ye Ni, a senior editor from the Irrawaddy Media Group that publishes both print and online, said: “We realize the importance of data journalism.  The inclusion of data in news pieces certainly makes them more convincing, and the public love it. This seminar is really effective as it highlights local needs, and gives us ideas on how to address them. There is an air of change now in almost every sector of society. We want to be part of this change.” Senior Editor U Aung Thein Win, Editor in Charge of Yangon Media Group that publish a number of daily and weekly publications, said: “The local media industry has not been able to focus on this kind of journalism for a number of reasons. However, changing contexts in the local media landscape now makes it essential. I hope there will be more events like this.”

Government media, represented by Daw Laing Mung Pan, Director, Myanmar International TV, said: “The broadcast media widely employ graphics in news presentations. However, we realize that we still have a long way to go. We need to develop data journalism in the country so that we are on a par with other more developed media industries in neighbouring countries. Thanks to the 2014 Census, we have suddenly become rich in data for the first time in more than three decades. We must utilize this.”

Participants also agreed on the challenges in the development of data journalism. U Yan Naung Oak from the Phandeeyar, a non-governmental organization which focuses on media development, said that the development of data journalism depends on a number of factors: “We know that local journalists can produce a good story, but, when it comes to reinforcing the story with data, journalists face numerous challenges such as access to reliable data. Presently it takes days to obtain data from organizations, both in the government and private sector. As the media industry works to time constraints, we often have to print articles without data. We hope this changes in the coming years.” Despite these challenges, participants felt encouraged, as trainee Ko Aung Kham Hein, a freelance journalist, said, “Data journalism paves the way for better quality reporting. We realize that we face challenges. However, we must try to overcome these. This is just the beginning.”

The afternoon session includes mini-workshops on practical use of data journlaism