Contrasting fortunes for Burma’s English-language newspapers
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Contrasting fortunes for Burma’s English-language newspapers

As one of Burma’s major English language newspapers announces plans for a relaunch, the owner of another is trying to shut down his newspaper

Burma’s longest running newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, prints both Burmese language and English language versions. It is widely regarded to be a mouthpiece of the government and receives government funding. It is due to relaunch in March.

The newspaper’s chief editor, Than Myint Tun told the Irrawaddy that: “Approximately at the beginning of March we will relaunch The New Light of Myanmar.

“We will have a broadsheet, as opposed to the current tabloid format, and will have a wide variety of news.”

Observers are waiting to see what happens as a promised relaunch of the paper in time for the ASEAN Games held in Burma in December came to nothing.

Instead the target is now to relaunch the paper in time for the ASEAN summit being held in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, in May.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo has been helping New Llght of Myanmar by offering technology training to staff and giving two reporters a course in journalism in Tokyo.

The New Light of Myanmar was part privatized in 2013, but the government still owns a 51 per cent stake in the newspaper, which has led many to doubt that it will be able to report impartially after the relaunch.

While the New Light of Myanmar is looking to the future, the majority shareowner of the rival Myanmar Times, Dr Tin Tun Oo, wants to liquidate his newspaper.

According to Mizzima, on January 7 a Rangoon district court dismissed a request to liquidate the Myanmar Times made by its publisher, Myanmar Consolidated Media Holdings (MCM), which is 51 per cent owned by Dr Tin Tun Oo.

Ross Dunkley, the Australian founder of the newspaper, owns the other 49 per cent of MCM.

It is the only newspaper in Burma with any foreign ownership. Despite this, many criticize it for being a sophisticated propaganda tool for the more progressive elements within the government.

An English language version is published on Mondays and a Burmese version is published on Thursdays.

The attempt to liquidate the paper is the latest stage in the increasingly acrimonious relationship between Mr Dunkley and Dr Tin Tun Oo.

Mr Dunkley originally founded the paper in 2000 in partnership with Sonny Swe, the son of former military officer General Thein Swe. He and his son were imprisoned in 2004 during a purge by the then junta leader General Than Shwe.

The Junta then ordered that Sonny Swe’s shares in MCM be sold cheaply to media owner and junta crony Dr Tin Tun Oo. His partnership with Mr Dunkley appears to have been one of mutual loathing ever since.

In 2011 Mr Dunkley was imprisoned for 47 days in the notorious Insein prison for immigration violations, drug charges and an alleged assault on a sex worker.

When the cases came to court he was fined 100,000 kyat and sentenced to one month in prison, which meant he was immediately released due to time served.

It was widely believed that the case was a politically motivated set-up to try and wrest Dunkley’s MCM shares away from him. Mr Dunkley told reporters he thought the verdicts were ridiculous. He held on to his shares and returned to the newspaper.

However, his relationship with Dr Tin Tun Oo continued to deteriorate. In October 2013 Dr Thin Tun Oo’s wife, Khin Moe Moe, brought a lawsuit against Mr Dunkley accusing him of hitting her son when Mr Dunkley removed him from the newsroom after they had appeared unannounced with a video crew.

Mr Dunkley has filed a countersuit against Khin Moe Moe.

According to an interview in Vanity Fair the disagreements are because Dr Tin Tun Oo’s family object to Dunkley’s attempts to make the paper a daily and are trying to sell their shares for far more than they bought them for.

In October last year Mr Dunkley told The Australian: “The issue mostly now is about the sale of TTO’s (Dr Tin Tun Oo) share in the business and his relinquishment of any lingering role at the company.”

Clearly the situation still has not been resolved and there are certain to be more twists and turns to this strange media saga before it is finally resolved.