Media Watchdog Urges More Balanced Election Reporting

Burma’s pre-election press coverage has been consistently unbalanced, according to a new report produced by a media monitoring project.

RANGOON — Burma’s pre-election press coverage has been consistently unbalanced, particularly among state-owned media enterprises, according to a new report produced by a media monitoring project.

The Myanmar Institute Democracy (MID) undertook the ambitious task of monitoring four state-owned and one independent broadcaster, six radio stations, ten daily and weekly news journals and three online news sources.

The project report concludes that state media fared the worst across the board, failing to meet standards of fairness and balance while devoting the bulk of its coverage to the activities of state authorities, divorced from the context of an election year.

“Critical and independent opinions on the performance of the authorities, as well as more comprehensive analysis of constituents’ platforms have so far been generally absent from the news programs of the state-funded media,” the report said.

MID began monitoring coverage on Sept. 8, at the start of the official campaign period leading up to a general election to be held on Nov. 8. The findings, released on Friday, analyze media coverage up to Sept. 28.

The report said print and digital media offered the most diverse views, though private papers and online media tended to show preference for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) while state media appeared more supportive of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The project’s qualitative analysis ultimately indicated that “a number of media neglect to offer voters opposing views on particular stories.”

Myo Min Zaw, MID’s project coordinator, said the institute assessed broadcasters based on the amount of air time given to certain topics and the tone of the reporting. Likewise, the group measured the space afforded in print media and whether stories were positive, negative or neutral.

State broadcaster MRTV was found to devote nearly half of its political and elections-related coverage to the activities of state authorities with a predominantly positive or neutral tone, focusing 31.1 percent of coverage on the government, 36 percent on President Thein Sein, 13.6 percent on the vice presidents and 9.8 percent on the military.

Its counterpart, formerly exiled independent broadcaster DVB, spent 28.8 percent of airtime on authorities while the remainder was focused on covering other political parties, the report said, concluding that “DVB has so far offered its viewers balanced coverage of political and election-related information.”

The station did show some disparity in air time for the two major parties, with the NLD at 31.5 percent and the USDP at 16.1.

Among daily newspapers, Eleven News, 7 Day and Voice afforded the largest portion of their coverage to election campaign coverage, with Eleven News granting the NLD as much as 56 percent. The USDP stood at a mere 11.2 percent.

The Irrawaddy and Mizzima were found to have given more attention to different political parties including the Arakan National Party (ANP), the Democracy Party for a New Society (DPNS), the Mon National Party (MNP), the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP).

As for the frontrunners, “they both gave more space to the NLD than the USDP,” the report said.

MID will continue monitoring the media throughout the campaign and part of the post-election period, and will produce a follow-up report in two weeks.

The group recommended that in the weeks ahead and beyond, Burma’s media should be “more proactive” in structuring their coverage to “better facilitate the exchange of opinions, public debate, investigation and commentary that would offer the public fully informed, analyzed and assessed views of persons seeking elected office.”


Zaw Min

It is true. Our fourth pillar of democracy, the media, is not being fair and impartial in its reporting. It is either biased toward the ruling party in the case of state owned media or toward the main opposition party in the case of non-state owned media. On the foreign media side, it had done a commendable job of attempting to uncover the background of Than Shwe but surprisingly was silent on the issues of ASSK background during her life outside of Myanmar. There was absolutely no coverage of her alleged affair with a foreigner (not her husband) in India that apparently broke the brother-sister and mother-daughter relationship. There was no report of whether she obtained a British passport in her foreign travels prior to her return to Myanmar in 1987-88 as this would effectively made her a British subject, and a non-national of Myanmar. The ruling government and its media are keeping silent because they want to hide their own dubious background history. And most possibly they are keeping this as a trump card to unseat and kick out ASSK if she and her party ever win again. Just remember what they did to Shwe Maung, the Rohingya USDP parliament member of 2010.


Why don’t you also put up Irrawaddy, Mizzima, Eleven Media, etc. on the picture, too? Because you’re also very biased just like states media?

Whoever’s doing this research also needs to look at # of readership, foreign language vs. domestic, influence and perception, etc of each news media. Otherwise, just by saying negative positive or % coverage of parties is in sufficient. No one trusts state media or there’s not point in saying they are biased; at least it’s very clear cut.

For example, the Irrawaddy covers of a lot NLD and other parties but if you look at the content of other parties’ coverage, the objective is still to argue for support of NLD and attack the government at every chance that they get.

The danger lies with those private news media outlet, pretending to be fair or neutral or independent and yet they are totally anti-government or sometimes anti-individual (business, politics). If you want to support opposition, feel free, and keep that stance 100% clear, so there’s no confusion. Don’t pretend that you are free press and for fair reporting, when all your journalists and owners already captured by different business groups, politicians, rights groups and civil societies as well as their past experience as students’ activists, etc.

Faked news everywhere in Myanmar. People sharing and liking news on facebook, that doesn’t even present correct analysis. That’s what happened when you open up media fully, but the quality and integrity of media has not caught up to democratic principles.


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