MYANMAR: Friend or Foe?

ALEXANDRE GUIRAUD-COINTREAU WRITES – In Myanmar, laws are changing, media companies are moving back to the country, and daily private newspapers are being published. But there is still a long way to go before this country can achieve a truly Western style press.

Publishers are faced with new issues every day, such as financing. Aung Zaw, the founder of the famed Irrawaddy Newspaper, said he had to overcome the full cost of publishing the new issues on his own, as the use of advertisers is very delicate. There is a fear of going to business with the wrong person or with the wrong support. If they take part in advertising or partner with others, they are at risk of losing the support of some organizations that are currently helping them fund the newspapers, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the American government. Other newspapers are facing similar situations, such as The Democratic Voice of Burma, which is funded by the Norwegian government.

What’s more is that after decades of censorship and struggles for freedom of the press, the Ministry of Information is having difficulty getting journalists to consider its as an ally, rather than as an enemy. The Ministry’s Deputy Minister Ye Htut, during a meeting of the Myanmar Printers and Publishers Association and Publishers and Distributors Association in Yangon, stated that, “it is a very difficult task to get journalists to see us as a media partner organization rather than an oppressive one because the ministry was oppressive since 1962”.

The country has seen many drastic changes since the new regime came into power, and all of these changes have been made to aim for greater freedom. However,  the government’s actions are still under detailed review by media companies and international organizations. Myanmar is still ranked number 8 out of 10 ASEAN countries in term of press freedom, and 151 out of 179 according to the 2013 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The Information Minister, U Aung Kyi, remains positive and is glad to see that Myanmar has gained 18 places in the index since last year. He is certain that this placement will only continue to increase, with help from looser media laws that are still to come.

One thing is certain, if Myanmar hopes to move forward they must focus on forging a partnership between the government and privately owned newspapers.

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