The launch on Thursday of a new look for Burma’s notoriously stodgy state-run newspapers has done little to improve their image after decades of serving as mouthpieces for the country’s former military junta.
Faced with the prospect of losing their monopoly as the country’s only dailies, The New Light of Myanmar and its Burmese-language counterparts are hoping they can remain competitive by adding splashes of color and replacing the pro-regime slogans of the past with advertising.
But if the initials reactions of readers are any indication, they still have a way to go before they can be sure of their continuing relevance in a more open media environment.
“I’m not too impressed by the new, more colorful versions of the state-run dailies,” wrote Ye Myat Thu, an executive committee member of the Myanmar Computer Federation, on his official Facebook account.
“The layout, use of color and photos aren’t even up to the standards of a non-professional designer.
“It isn’t difficult to produce a decent newspaper. Newspapers represent the country and are records of its history. If we don’t criticize them, future generations will think we were incapable of pointing out the weaknesses and needs of newspaper in this era,” he wrote.
While some observers faulted the government dailies for their amateurish attempts to spruce up their appearance, other noted that they still report the news in the same Stalinist monotone that has been their trademark for the past half century.
Perhaps the only real innovation in the “new and improved” New Light is the introduction of advertising, which fill nearly two-thirds of the upgraded newspapers and will help to keep the price of a single copy down to just 50 kyat (less that six US cents).
“The new version will still sell for 50 kyat, even though it will cost 140 kyat to produce. The government will pay 50 kyat per copy, and the rest will be covered by advertising,” said a reporter for the Burmese-language Myanmar Ahlin.
To further assist the state-run dailies, the government will also arrange their nationwide distribution using buses, trains and even helicopters, said reporters for the papers. However, the state-owned printing presses that were previously used to publish the old black-and-white versions of the newspapers will no longer operate, they added.
The circulation of Burma’s two Burmese-language dailies, Myanmar Ahlin and Kyemon, is 150,000 and 120,000 papers per day, respectively.
Burma is expected to authorize publication of privately owned daily newspapers sometime early next year.