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A murky future for Myanmar’s private print media

Publication Date : 01-04-2014

 

Since the government gave the green light to 16 private daily newspapers on April 1, 2013, many are finding the harsh realities of Myanmar’s publishing market too hard to cope.

Despite initial optimism, only seven of the new papers are currently in circulation and the remaining face the possibility of suspension and shutdown.

“It is just like a boat race. Our paddle has broken now while rowing,” said Thauk Kyar, chief editor of The Golden New Land, which was among four dailies that started publishing in April last year.

They finally suspended publication on March 12 due to financial difficulties.

Many privately owned papers are facing difficulties due to lower market shares and dwindling advertising revenue. All have to compete with strong government-owned papers who have not had to raise their prices due to state subsidies.

“The papers have to rely mainly on advertising incomes. Here we don’t have much advertising income. Our dailies have to share advertising income with the weekly papers. And we have to compete with the government-run newspapers for advertising incomes,” said writer Pe Myint.

The state-owned papers are available at a price of 50 kyats (distribution price) and 100 kyats (selling price at the market) per copy giving them marketing and distribution advantages.

Private dailies have to compete by selling their copy at 250 kyats per copy at the news stands. Despite the battle for marketing and advertising revenue, most newspapers suffer from a lack of quality journalism and reporting after years of censorship and repression.

“We are facing not only a decrease in publication but also a decline in income. For that reason, we have to inspect our quality as well. We are doing our best for it,” said Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of the Voice Daily.

Another issue is the snapping up of print publications by crony companies with close ties to the government, which raises the spectre of compromising independence in the privately-owned media.

The Yangon Times newspaper ceased publication this month and has been replaced by Democracy Today after it was bought by Shwe Than Lwin Company, which also owns SkyNet.

After its makeover, Democracy Today is now selling at news stands for 100 kyats per copy. Considering publishing costs, the paper is estimated to loose 60 million kyats every day at this rate.

However, it is well known that Shwe Than Lwin receives tax benefits and other perks due to its close government connections.

“There are two reasons why cronies are infiltrating into the print media market. Their finances are in surplus. Another is they want to build their bond with the government. To simplify, they become the stooges of the government,” said Ye Myint Phay, chief editor of the Standard Time.

The infiltration of crony companies into the private newspaper business has also raised fears that they will seek to influence the coverage of the 2015 elections.

“I’m afraid of the future of the newspaper industry,” said journalist Aung Hla Tun.

“The government runs newspapers using public budget as their capital but they are not supposed to say how much their newspapers are beneficial for the public. The public as well as the readers must decide,” he added.

Kyaw Min Swe, the chief editor of the Voice Daily, commented that current time is the most difficult for the private print media and the future remains cloudy.

US$1 = 946 kyats

 

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