Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bullets and mines give Violet's job an edge

By Brenda Cottingham

The first thing Burmese journalist Violet Cho noticed about New Zealand’s news media was its different news priorities – like a burglary story on page one of the NZ Herald.

The kind of journalism she does involves avoiding being shot or having her limbs blown off by land mines.

“I couldn’t believe that a burglary would be so important that it warranted being on page one,” she told Whitireia Journalism School students during a visit to Wellington this month.

She is surprised at the New Zealand media’s lack of international coverage and focus on local issues.

Violet has emerged from the unlikely roots of a Thai refugee camp, and is in New Zealand taking her journalism education a step further.

She fled Myanmar/Burma (she uses both names) with her family to Thailand when she was seven, and says growing up in a refugee camp was not easy.

A lot of young people were depressed in the camps, which indirectly spawned journalism and led to her career.

She was taught basic journalism by a South African woman, and with the help of the camp’s community leader, was able to covertly set up a radio transmitter within her camp, which raised spirits.

Telling the stories
Since taking up journalism, she has aimed to tell the stories of the people, but says getting even a simple story could prove dangerous and difficult because of the Burmese military presence.

In 2005, she risked her life reaching a remote Burmese village.

“The Burmese conflict policy is to shoot on sight,” says Violet.

The people of the village were teaching children to use whatever materials they had, which included a large stone-face used as a blackboard.

Violet, an indigenous Karen, holds a Burmese passport, and says Burma is a corrupt country where those in power do not share the wealth, and drugs and trafficking are just a few of the problems.

After she completes her journalism studies at Auckland University of Technology, she hopes to visit her family, who now live in America, before returning to work in Thailand.

Her dream is to see a free Myanmar and to work there.

Violet - who is hosted in New Zealand on the AUT University's Pacific Media Centre inaugural Asian Journalism Fellowship supported by the Asia: NZ Foundation - would like NZ journalists to visit Myanmar to write about the lives of the people and their hardships.

Picture: Violet Cho at Whitireia. Photo: Brenda Cottingham

Brenda Cottingham is a student journalist at Whitireia Journalism School in Wellington. This story was published originally on Newswire.

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