Sunday, February 2, 2014

Finally, Myanmar Making Tremendous Strides in Newspaper Industry

By Rabin Man Shakya. Ph D

I had the opportunity of getting acquainted with couple of journalists from Myanmar. Guess where? In the former USSR? In the United States here? Nope. It was in 1994 in New Delhi at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication where yours truly and Jagadish Pokhrel of The Rising Nepal were sent for five months course on Non-aligned News Agency Journalism. Altogether there were 24 participants from, at least, 19 different countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Two of them were from Myanmar and both of them represented the government media of Myanmar.

Remember, it was 1994 and Nepal was already a democratic country but Myanmar was still in the grip of military junta. For that matter, even when Nepal was not a democratic nation and was ruled by kings under the authoritarian Panchayat system, the private sector newspapers were allowed in our country, whereas the military junta had imposed state monopoly on the newspaper industry since the 1960s. During the interactions, the two participants from Myanmar would, pretty much, endorse and echo the policies and perspectives of the military junta badly reflecting the lack of freedom of expression as well as press freedom in that country.

The sad reality of press freedom scenario in Myanmar was that the government-controlled newspapers, radio station and television broadcasting were not in a position to raise a voice against the military junta and other responsible ministers and government officials.

Judging by the magnitude of the press freedom, Freedom House, an international press freedom watchdog had identified Myanmar as one of the world's blackest spots for free journalism. It goes without saying that during the entire 50-years of rule by the military junta, Myanmar maintained its long notoriety as a country which used the mass media as a vehicle for political propaganda.

Finally, the unassailable grip of the military junta has been snapped at the hand of Thein Sein who became the head of an elected civilian government in March 2011 and, subsequently, press freedom was restored in Myanmar, paving the way for it to become, at least, a partly free nation.

The press censorship which was lifted in 2012 allowed the journalists to print and publish news stories that would have been unimaginable under the rule of the generalissimo. As a result, after 50 years of junta regime, dozens of private sector newspapers are being published in Myanmar: Golden Fresh Land,  The Voice, The Union and The Standard Time Daily, just to mention few of them.

Therefore, at a time when the newspaper business is on the decline in advanced countries like the US and Canada, it looks like, after 50 years of struggle, the private sector newspaper industry has made a comeback in Myanmar.

Nevertheless, although Myanmar has seen some qualitative changes in the newspaper industry, the government still continues to tighten its grip on other means of mass media, such as, radio, television broadcasting and news agency.

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