Published in Mizzima Weekly on 15 May 2016

Newspapers come off the press at The Global New Light of Myanmar. Photo: Jessica Mudditt

Newspapers come off the press at The Global New Light of Myanmar. Photo: Jessica Mudditt

The Mizzima Media Group and Action Aid hosted a conference on media policy in Myanmar on 15 May at Yangon’s Kandawgyi Palace Hotel.

Over a hundred stakeholders from the media, diplomatic community and government met to discuss Myanmar’s changing media landscape in the context of having a new and democratically-elected government and a raft of reforms to undertake.

The four-hour discussion was dominated by the future of state media, with several speakers and audience members voicing their dissatisfaction over comments made by Information Minister U Pe Myint as part of his opening remarks.

The minister said that state media can “act as a bridge between the government and the public” and that it will continue to have a role in Myanmar under the National League for Democracy government.

Mr Oliver Spencer from Article 19 said: “Does the [the NLD] want to be a full democracy? Democracies do not have state media, whether print or broadcast. Public service media is very different. China, Cambodia and Laos have state media – that’s because they are not democracies.”

Others objected to the continuation of the Ministry of Information, and said that as each ministry has a public relations department, it is not necessary or desirable.

In his concluding remarks, the Information Minister observed that: “The ministry is like a tree: some people want to cut it down and others want its branches to be stronger.”

He added that: “We will not be commercially competing against other media – it will be performing the need to communicate with the people. If there will be impacts on the private media from state-run media, please let us know. I would like to remind you that in a democratic state, a market economy will come into play. The Ministry of Information is not competing against private media… We will try to reduce the columns used for ads. We don’t want new problems cropping up.”

U Aung Shin, Central Executive Committee member of the NLD said that high expectations of the NLD government were to blame for discontent over current policies.

“Myanmar is very much in a democratic transition – freedom of press is still very low and we are trying to progress. It is important that we work together for media development in Myanmar.”

On the future of the Ministry of Information, the minister said: “A government does need an information role – it can be an agency or something else. The government needs a way to communicate to the people. I would like to remind you of that. It is not just dictatorial states – it is all governments. Even private entities need to communicate to the public. In the UK there was a ministry of information but it was changed into another ministry. The US has an information service to disseminate information all over the world. We need some kind of mechanism. I just want to give you that food for thought.”

The need for media training, including for ethnic minority media, was also discussed, with some pointing out that training from the international community must follow a needs-based approach rather than a policy approach, as the latter often leads to overlap and neglecting certain areas and communities. Calls were made for a media development fund in Myanmar, with appropriate criteria for receiving training and curriculum developed.

Daw Lut Latt Soe, Chief Editor of the People’s Age Journal said that women must be encouraged to develop their careers in journalism.

“There are very few women in leadership roles in the media. One reason for this is cultural – in Myanmar, women are considered the second sex and suited to household work and being occupied with family responsibilities. These are the cultural norms that we have to go against when we join the profession. Some women become reporters, but the number of female editors is very few.”

The perceived shortcomings of the broadcasting law were also discussed in detail, with some questioning the arrangements for CNN and Skynet, which will produce the first 24 hour news channel, as well as the allocation of new channels.

Also speaking at the event are Mr Staffan Herrstrom, Ambassador of Sweden to Myanmar and Mr Shihab Uddin Ahmad, Country Director, Action Aid Myanmar. The event followed the first media policy dialogue organised by the Mizzima Media Group and Action Aid and held on 21 February, shortly before the NLD government came to power.