Who will control Burma’s new private daily newspapers?
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Who will control Burma’s new private daily newspapers?

Burma‘s state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar published an article Monday describing this as “A golden age of Myanmar’s media”. The author Su Thabyay Naing also predicted the emergence of privately owned dailies in Burma in April.

The article says that media censorship in Burma (Myanmar) has been eased in response to the demand of the age. The author said mid-August, 2012 was a pivotal time as this was when pre-publication censorship came to a close. But he did not mention in detail what happened in last August.

In reality, on August 1, 92 journalists from Myanmar Journalists’ Association (MJA), Myanmar Journalists’ Network (MJN) and Myanmar Journalists’ Union (MJU) held a meeting at the Royal Rose Garden in Yangon and released a press statement. A number of journalists wearing black T-shirts decorated with the catchphrase ‘STOP KILLING PRESS’ launched a demonstration in former capital Rangoon launched a protest against the suspension of two journals – the Voice Weekly Journal and the Envoy Journal.

In their press statement, the journalists declared that if the government endorsed a ‘Press Law’ without seeking advice from the stakeholders in the press, they would not accept any outcome concerning the new bill. Media watchdog groups have been urging the Burmese authorities to dump the unethical laws governing freedom of expression, especially the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act and other oppressive laws.

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 praised the government’s generosity and blamed some journalists for breaching journalistic ethics. This is hardly surprising in the pages of a state-run newspaper.

He also revealed that, “Private dailies will be allowed officially from 1 April on.”  Currently, he said, journalists, publishers and economists were working on a variety of journals printed with colorful opinions.

The author also advocates that consecutive governments of various countries support public service media which deliver accurate news items to the public without ‘bias’.

However, at this point about ‘bias’, many citizens may not agree with the author. People are well aware that the state-run papers – Myanma Alinn, Kyemon and The New Light of Myanmar – usually publish only the regime’s propaganda. For instance, when the three papers publishe news on ethnic conflicts, they brand the rebels as destructive elements or illegal armed groups. They never mention the root causes of those armed struggles.

The New Light of Myanmar, despite its lofty claims, never published news concerning the rallies of Burma’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi during her domestic and international tours even though she has become a focal point for the international media. Instead, the newspaper highligted routine events of President Thein Sein and Vice Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

Win Tin, a veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Hanthawady Daily, spoke to Eleven Media Group (EMG) about private dailies last November.

“The government talked about the publication of private newspapers…. In that regard, the time has come to publish private newspapers. If possible, state-run newspapers should not exist. Even the Kyemon and Myanma Alin newspapers must be privatized. This is my opinion. Private newspapers must emerge. State-run newspapers should not exist,” he said.

So, another question emerges.  Who will be allowed to publish these publications? Some observers are worried that the media industry may also be fallen into the hands of the military’s cronies. If the cronies monopolize the ownership of the media trade, there may not be free, fair and healthy competition through the media industry sector.

The author, Su Thabyay Naing, concluded by saying that journalists should abide by codes of conduct in order to set up a brighter future for the country’s media industry. His suggestion is probably more warning than advice, in line with the government’s policy of disciplined democracy.