For more than forty years state media dominated Myanmar’s media landscape. State newspapers and television channels routinely fed the public the government’s view, often amounting to flat out propaganda.
Although the government now plans to transform its state-run media into a public service media proivder; the authorities will still be in control, raising questions about the independence of the public service press.
Private media outlets are important to the process of democratic transition. Only they can report dissenting views and opinions and inform the general public free from political agendas.
A little more than a decade ago, Myanmar saw the first introduction of a private news media within its borders, 22 months ago privately owned daily newspapers were allowed to function.
The private media are still in their infancy and have been suffering huge losses. Some put this down to a poor quality of content and inept management that has seen these publications struggle to attract readers. Another reason the daily newspapers are suffering is the crowded market; there are just too many of them.
The major reason for their difficulties however, is that they are forced to deal with unfair competition.
State-run media had a headstart on thier private counterparts and now control the advertising market. Only state-run media can print official notifications and the statements of government ministries. Legal statements are only officially recognised if they are announced in the state media.
The subsidisation price of state newspapers also provides an unfair advantage; copies retail at only K100 (US0.10), hardly enough to turn a profit.
It is also unfair that the state newspapers can use state-owned land, state-owned vehicles and employ people whose salaries are paid for with tax payers money. Privately owned newspapers have to invest in this. These added costs make it hard to compete on price.
In some countries the state has supported private media during the democratic transition. For instance, the Nepal government subsidised privately-owned newspapers.
If the Myanmar government is sincere in trying to foster a healthy private media during the transitional period; it does not need to provide financial support. It must establish policies such as exempting the import of print equipment from tax and ensuring fair competition in the newspaper market.
This Article first appeared in the February 12, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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