Ethnic Media in Myanmar: Same Challenges, Different Environment, New Approaches by Ko Htwe, 07/06/2017, Tea Circle (an Oxford forum for New Perspectives on Burma/Myanmar)
Ko Htwe describes ethnic media’s response to constraints on the press in Myanmar.
Ko Htwe is a postgraduate student at Cardiff University studying Journalism, Media and Communication. His research “The Role of Ethnic Media in New Myanmar” was published by Chiang Mai University, Thailand. He has also written articles for Bangkok Post, Asia Sentinel, Walkley Magazine, DVB, Irrawaddy and Karen news.
After reforms by Myanmar’s post-2011 government, the landscape for both mainstream and ethnic media has changed dramatically, with new media outlets blooming. Abolishing the country’s censor board and welcoming exiled media groups to publish in-country, the quasi-civilian Thein Sein government pursued major advances toward press freedom. More than 885 publications— including 50 published in ethnic languages— have been approved by the government, up from 300 registered in 2014. Among these publications are three Chin language daily newspapers, 40 ethnic language journals and seven ethnic language magazines, according to Pe Myint, Minister of Information.
The ethnic language publications, in particular, represent a notable expansion of ethnic media— a term I define elsewhere as “publications, broadcasts or websites that are associated with ethnic minority peoples and that focus on ethnic minority concerns, regardless of whether they use Burmese or an ethnic minority language.” Also included as part of “ethnic media” are “state-based” and “locally-based” periodicals, distributed in ethnic minority areas in Myanmar, that take up ethnic-minority concerns.
Under the present administration, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), many Burmese media onlookers believe that the media industry will see further progress. However, according to a recent PEN Myanmar press release on World Press Freedom Day, the country’s free expression score is only 8 out of 60 possible points. Limited access to information, markets, and funding, harassment of journalists and editors, as well as difficulties in securing long-term sustainability were the main barriers for media groups, both ethnic and mainstream Burmese. Moreover, journalists and editors face possible lawsuits under 66(d) of the Telecommunication Law, which can result in a prison sentence up to three years for defamation using a telecommunications network. At least 54 people have been charged under this law, with eight people sentenced to prison for their posts on social media, according to a letter from Human Rights Watch to the Attorney General and officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Recently, Yangon based The Voice Daily’s editor-in-chief and regular satire contributor faced a lawsuit filed by the military under 66(d).
Despite these difficulties, daily, weekly and monthly publications, covering news, sports, entertainment and astrology both in Burmese and in ethnic languages, are being published in Myanmar. Some publications survive, but many periodicals have disappeared.
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