YANGON, Feb 5 — Reporter Mratt Kyaw Thu received the 2017 Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize today for his courageous coverage of ethnic and religious conflict in Myanmar’s borderlands.
The award, named after one of AFP’s finest correspondents who died in 2007 at the age of 64, recognises top-notch journalism by locally-hired reporters in Asia operating in risky or difficult conditions.
Myanmar’s transition to democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown a spotlight on decades-old conflicts in hard-to-access parts of the country.
Mratt Kyaw Thu, 27, won the prize for a series of articles for the Yangon-based English-language news magazine Frontier taking a close-up look at violence in remote Shan and Rakhine states.
Rakhine is a cauldron of communal hatred and unrest and his reporting covered the first wave of an exodus that has seen nearly 800,000 Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar for Bangladesh.
“Mratt was recognised for a series of articles focused on ethnic and religious conflict,” said Philippe Massonnet, AFP’s Asia-Pacific regional director.
He praised Frontier for its “strong reputation for independent reporting in Myanmar where rights groups say media freedoms have not improved, despite the installation of a civilian-led government”.
In a sign of the dangers of reporting on the Rakhine crisis, two local Reuters journalists have been held since December on charges that they violated the Official Secrets Act.
“They are facing the possibility of up to 14 years in prison. For what crime? They were trying to find out what is happening in the State of Rakhine,” Massonnet added.
In that context, AFP is “very pleased” that a journalist from Myanmar received the Kate Webb award for the first time.
The distinction honours Webb’s legacy of supporting and working with reporters in Asia over a career that lasted more than four decades.
“In our country, many journalists are working under the control of ownership and self-censorship,” Mratt Kyaw Thu said in his acceptance speech, stressing the importance of “editorial independence”.
He dedicated the award, which carries a prize of €3,000 (RM14,519), to “my friends who are in jail, and to all Myanmar journalists”.
The award, which in 2016 went to independent Afghan TV station Tolo, is administered by AFP and the Webb family. — AFP