Free or just Freer; Myanmar’s Daily’s starting up

May 24th, 2013

This past March, writer, Mitch Moxley and I traveled to Yangon to report on the Myanmar’s changing press laws that are ostensibly permitting media organizations to publish uncensored dailies. The set deadline for the change was April 1st but what we saw and heard was that the details and implementation of these laws are much more complex. There are still legal hurdles to overcome. The publishing companies themselves are still constructing viable business models to support their operation. Fortunately, Myanmar is blessed with a devoted readership and many eagerly await the anticipated openness.


We talked with several of the leading contenders in the market about their plans and concerns. Our first stop was to the offices of Mizzima, a multi-media news organization that had previously been working as exiled journalists publishing from offices in Chiang Mai, Thailand and New Delhi, India. After twenty-three years in exile the main editors, including Thin Thin Aung have set up a newsroom and production studio in Yangon. Mizzama’s license to publish a daily has already been approved and as for the legal challenges the media face, she states, “The government is learning. If the journalists fight, they will listen.” Mizzima, along with the Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma have all faced exile, prison and harassment for their work so this optimism for the future is a good sign that a healthy press will evolve.


Mitch Moxley’s report stated that “while the sense of optimism and opportunity is palpable among Myanmar’s media professionals, there is also some hesitation. The government remains dominated by the military and in March it submitted a draft media bill that contained many elements of the draconian 1962 Printing and Registration Act, which remains in place. Although the liberal policies enacted by the citizen-elected president Thein Sein since 2011 are unprecedented, no ones knows how the government will react to the challenges of a more open society, and it has already faced criticism for its handling of ethnic conflicts, corruption and land grabs. “


One publisher that is already well established in the weekly and magazine market, The Myanmar Times, has faced other kind of hurdles that seem to suggest that transparency and government media control are still serious obstacles. The publisher and driving force of the organization, Ross Dunkley, is facing serious charges legal charges that seem to be both political and personal. Without going into details, he alleges that a well connected government appointed co-owner (the real co owner was put in jail on trumped up charges) is trying to steal and thwart his efforts to become the most successful daily. The Times operation is quite evolved and professional so they do have a good chance of successfully transitioning to a daily operation.


As a developing democracy Myanmar is facing serious growing pains that threaten to undo the its recent progress. The freeing of the press from government control will certainly add to the growing faith inside and outside of Myanmar that its on the right track. Each morning Yangon’s streets are full of paper sellers and readers and they, no doubt, are eager to read about where their country is going.


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