Across the world, countless celebrities have used their fame and status to bring attention to contemporary political issues. Now the media industry in Burma is enjoying newfound freedom following the lifting of censorship, and Burmese celebrities have more opportunities to engage with topical issues and voice their opinions to their fans.
On DVB Debate’s panel this week: MP and hip hop star, Zeyar Thaw; artist Aye Ko; movie director Mike Tee; and singer/songwriter A Yoe.
The studio discussed whether stars involve themselves in politics for the right reasons.
Zeyar Thaw believed artists and celebrities have a big influence on people. In 2000, Zeyar Thaw released the first hip hop album in Burma and topped the charts for two months. He is now an MP and concentrates mostly on politics.
“Our voice is not as loud as the artists”, he said, adding that the role of an artist is different to that of a politician, “artists highlight problems, politicians solve them.”
Artist Aye Ko sees the positive and negative sides of celebrities becoming involved in politics, and explained that if an artist is passionate about an issue, political involvement can be good for promoting the cause
“There are pros and cons,” he said. “Famous people working without faith is bad. If others work with dedication, even if they are young and unknown, it may do some good.”
But poet Saw Wai was more sceptical.
“Popular guys want to remain popular so they use politics as a tool. They fear their past mistakes so they hide under the shadow of the military government, or of politics,” he said.
Another poet, Mhuu Thit, believed celebrities don’t represent the people and thought that the film industry’s past involvement with policy propaganda movies means they can’t be trusted with politics.
“The Myanmar [Burma] Motion Picture Association has a major responsibility for the deterioration of the whole society. When they enter the political arena, can we trust them?” he said.
Under the former military government, even well known celebrities would be imprisoned for speaking out against the government policies. Now that the country is opening up, celebrities have a chance to use their influence more freely.
“Compared to ordinary politicians, artists have more power,” said Mike Tee.
But with the power of celebrity comes responsibility to the public.
“All eyes are on us, and many people are interested in what we do. If we sing a song naked, many people will start to do that. We have a responsibility towards the youth because they imitate celebrities,” said A Yoe.
This idea of acting responsibly was shared with former Miss Grand Myanmar, Htar Htet Htet, who said that people view those in the public eye as role models.
“Some people define us as their role models, so we have to try and act responsibly and be aware of our daily behavior,” she said.
The studio generally agreed that, whether they are political or not, celebrities should be aware of their influence over fans and try to act accordingly.
You can join the debate or watch the full programme online at dvbdebate.com
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