Burma is to start transforming its state-run media into a public service media with a strategy of trimming down the information gap amongst its citizens. Minister of Information U Aung Kyi said a bill had been submitted to the parliament’s Lower House for endorsement, Xinhua news agency reported referring to the state-run media.

“The bill was drafted with the help of UNESCO to enable it to be in conformity with the principles of diversity of media pluralism,” U Aung Kyi told the parliament on 17 March 2014.

If the parliament approves the public service media bill, the Information Minister said there will be media pluralism within public service media, state-owned media, joint-venture media, non-profit media and ethnic and community-owned media in the country.

On 25-26 September a “Conference on Public Service Media” was held at Inya Lake Hotel to formally present this message to the public. According to the state-run news media, Deputy Minister for Information U Ye Htut, Lower House and Upper House representatives and representatives from political parties were present at the event.

Also present at the conference were representatives from DVB, Swedish Radio Media Development Office, International Media Support (IMS), Myanmar journalist associations and the Ministry of Information.

Journalists protest demanding 'Stop Killing Press' on 5 August 2012, in Rangoon, Burma. (Pic: AP)

During the conference, the Information Minister U Aung Kyi made a speech underlining how public service media can help create a greater sense of national identity and also foster democratic and other important social values. U Aung Kyi said public service media provides quality educational and informational training, and serves the needs of minority and other significant groups.

“Public broadcasting performs a crucial role in ensuring the public’s right to receive a wide diversity of independent and non-partisan information and ideas. It also serves as a meeting place where all citizens are welcomed and considered equals and where social issues are discussed. It has probably been the greatest of the instruments of social democracy to be accessible to all and meant for all,” U Aung Kyi said at the Conference on Public Service Media, as reported by state-run media.

Chairman Harlad Bockman of the Democratic Voice of Burma presided over the first session of the conference titled Public Service Journalism.

The second session of the conference, chaired by Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran of SEAPA, was titled Public Service Broadcasting in Theory and Practice.

U Soe Thein (Maung Wun Tha) presided over the third session titled PSB in Myanmar. The chairs replied to questions and discussions of the attendees, the state-run newspaper said.

After the 1962 military coup, the junta established a Press Scrutiny Board to enforce strict censorship practices on all forms of printed matter, including advertisements and obituaries. The information ministry of Myanmar put an end to its outdated censorship laws in August 2012. This extraordinary move has seemed the most noteworthy in a series of wide-ranging reforms since the end of the military junta’s rule in November 2010.

The Government of Burma has formed a five-member governing body in order to transform the three dailies, Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar currently run by the Ministry of Information, into Public Service Media (PSM) under Notification No 72/2012 dated 18-10-2012, the state-run media said on 20 October 2012.

In support of the PSM project, the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar published a flattering article on 31 December 2012 about the existing situation of media in the country, describing it as “A golden age of Myanmar’s media’.

The author, Su Thabyay Naing, seemed to pay tribute to the government by saying that there were 220 magazines and 310 journals in circulation in 2012. He also expressed in his article the insincerity of some journalists after the censorship was eased. It appeared he was praising the government’s generosity and blaming some journalists for breaching journalistic ethics.

Su Thabyay Naing also hinted that the government-owned newspaper enterprise would be transformed into 100 percent government-owned corporation which would likely change into a public corporation with investments from the private sector.

Moreover, he gave details about the governing body of the Public Service Newspaper which has distributed a code of ethics, principles and fundamental functions with due transparency. He said the state-owned newspapers had reviewed their forms, content and refreshed the papers with multicolor editions to transform into public service media.

The author also advocated that consecutive governments of various countries support public service media which deliver accurate news items to the public without bias. And they also monitor whether these media serve the people he said referring to an unnamed veteran journalist.

However, at this point about bias, most citizens may not agree with the author. People have already judged that the state-run papers Myanma Alinn, Kyemon and The New Light of Myanmar usually publish only the government’s misinformation. For instance, when the three papers publish news on ethnic conflicts, they usually describe the rebels as a destructive element or illegal armed groups. They never mention the root causes of those armed struggles.

It’s unreasonable to consider the remarks by the editor of The New Light of Myanmar who evaluates the paper as the most reliable newspaper, according to the author. This is because it never publishes news concerning big rallies of Myanmar’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi during her domestic and international tours even though she has been becoming a public focal point. The paper instead highlights the routine events of President Thein Sein and Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

The author, Su Thabyay Naing, who seems to speak on behalf of the authorities, finally advised that journalists should abide by codes of conduct in order to set up a brighter future for the country’s media sphere. His suggestion is probably a warning to keep in line with the government’s policy of disciplined democracy.

In June 2013, the members of the Interim Press Council (IPC) said that the PSM draft law need not cover journalistic ethics, duties and rights since the Press Council has already drafted those factors in the press law. The responsibilities and rights of the journalists should be on equal terms, they said.

The members of the Interim Press Council (IPC) also disagreed with PSM’s right to use to public funds, transportation and other preferences. It should pay the same tax as the public media businesses, the IPC said.  The IPC members totally rejected PSM’s 70 per cent spending of production costs from public funds. In addition, they also advised that it should stand on its own revenues and advertisement earnings because there is no state-funded public service media business in other countries. In brief, they said that the PSM should not be setting up more councils and committees at massive public cost.

According to U Win Tin, veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Hanthawady Daily,  state-run newspapers should not exist. Even the Kyemon (Mirror) and Myanma Alin newspapers must be privatized. Private newspapers must be established and state-run newspapers need to change into private-owned, he criticized strongly.

The question should be raised about whether the PSM project is just an unfair exploitation plan by the ruling party prior to the 2015 elections.