He could have kept his silence and stayed out of the spotlight, but "love and compassion" moved Ko Swe Win to take a stand. For his "undaunted commitment to practicing independent, ethical, and socially engaged journalism
," the 41-year-old editor of Myanmar Now received this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award.The award panel recognized Swe Win's "incorruptible sense of justice and unflinching pursuit of truth in crucial but under-reported issues." It cited the journalist's "resolute insistence that it is in the quality and force of media’s truth-telling that we can convincingly protect human rights in the world." Swe Win admitted he was overwhelmed with how the Magsaysay Award panel described his work, saying what he does is the result of "journalism with love and compassion."
"I feel very sensitive to the suffering of the people," he said. "If you have developed a very high level sense of sensitivity then you cannot just sit," he added."You have to do something. You have to take concrete action," said Swe Win. "Journalism is the best channel to take action." His passion for truth, however, came at a high price. In 1998, he was among 68 student activists arrested for participating in a demonstration against the ruling military junta in Myanmar. Swe Win, who was born in Yangon, was sentenced to 21 years in prison. He was tortured and starved, but he took it as part of the "process to understand myself and the complexities of the world."In prison, he studied English and deepened his understanding of his Buddhist faith."I believe in experiential understanding," he told ucanews.com in an interview in Manila. "In life, we try to understand things by reading, but this is second-hand knowledge," he said.Swe Win said prison life allowed him to understand the sufferings of people who are persecuted because of their commitment to fighting injustice.Prison also taught him "to see love in me.""If you don’t see love in yourself, how can you define love and extend it to others?" he said. Upon his release in 2005, Swe Win enrolled in an online journalism program. In 2009, he finished his master’s degree in journalism at Hong Kong University. He believes that "journalism should serve society" and a journalist
must speak about truth and justice "that is based on love and compassion." "There are many good stories, but we forget to tell it with compassion," he said, adding that reporting should not be done only for the sake of reporting. "It has to make a dent," he said.He first wrote for The Irrawaddy, a magazine based in Thailand, then later contributed to Al Jazeera and the New York Times.In 2015, he co-founded Myanmar Now with funding support from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.The online publication, which focuses on long-form investigative reports on under-reported issues, is available for syndication both in Burmese and English. In his continuous pursuit for truth, Swe Wim was arrested, physically assaulted, and briefly jailed after being charged with defamation in 2017. On July 2 this year, the court dismissed the case. "It is hard to change the heart and minds of the powerful and the oppressor," Swe Win said.Despite the attacks he said he does not consider anyone an enemy so that he can maintain his "objectivity as a journalist." "Whatever happens to society, we should not regard anyone as our enemies, both the oppressor and the oppressed," he said. "They are all our friends, but it does not mean that we agree with their wrongdoings," he said. "In that sense, we can do journalism objectively."He said "faith has a lot to do" with how he faces the challenges in his life."All religions teach us how to be good and how to grow in love and compassion for others," said the journalist. He said faith helps him "learn about myself and become more honest."Swe Win said, "authentic religious ideas" need to sink into Myanmar society."We have strong religions in our country, but now problems are associated with religion," he said, adding that religion has been used for "dubious agendas.""There are people who use these differences for their own personal, political, and business agenda," he said."I feel very sorry when Buddhism is being used to kill Muslims," he told ucanews.com. Media reports estimate that about 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed while more than 740,000 have been displaced following a crackdown by the military
in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Swe Kim said that the Ramon Magsaysay Award is "a challenge to do more." "Now I have no reason to cease from what I am doing. I will not stop reporting," he said.He called on fellow journalists to maintain their role as a watchdog, even as he warned against a "revengeful mindset" in reporting."As long as we do our jobs professionally, we are in a better position to survive and become relevant," he said. In 2018, Swe Win also received the Schuman Award for Human Rights and in 2016 the Myanmar Press Council Journalism Award.
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