Mizzima to Shut Down Daily, As Tycoon Cuts Ties

By Nobel Zaw 28 January 2015

RANGOON — Mizzima Media Group (MMG) announced on Wednesday that it will end print publication of its daily Burmese-language newspaper per March 1 after local business tycoon Serge Pun decided to withdraw from the media organization.

Some 22 months after it first entered Burma’s fledgling media market, the print edition of Daily Mizzima will cease and continue as a digital subscription-only publication, the organization said in a statement.

MMG said on Wednesday that it will continue publishing an English-language weekly magazine, a daily online news website in both languages, and produce paid-for TV and radio news content, along with offering other media services.

Soe Myint, MMG chief editor and managing director, told The Irrawaddy that the decision was taken because “there are many difficulties and it’s very costly [to publish] a private newspaper,” adding, “Now online readership is increasing so we change to an online digital newspaper.”

“Generally speaking, I know that nearly all of the private newspapers run without profits and even losses,” he said. Soe Myint said he could not specify how many employees would lose their job as a result of the decision.

About 40 local staff members of the organization’s roughly 140 employees were reportedly sacked last month ahead of the announcement. Dozens more lay-offs are expected by the end of next month, among them reporters, photographers and designers.

Daily Mizzima is thought to have a circulation of around 12,000 papers and is in the top five most sold private dailies in Burma.

Soe Myint said Serge Pun (also known locally as Thein Wai) and chief executive officer Sonny Swe decided to leave MMG and divested their shares in the company last week. “They gave the ownership rights to me and Thin Thin Aung,” said Soe Myint, referring to his wife, who will become the organization’s new director.

“Sonny Swe no longer wants to work at Mizzima, that’s why he resigned. [And] U Thein Wai just wanted to help Mizzima since the beginning,” he said when asked about the reasons for the break-up of the partnership, before referring further question to the other men.

In November 2013, Mizzima Media Group announced a revamp of the organization in order to expand its news coverage. Serge Pun became a Board of Directors’ member and shareholder. Soe Myint and Sonny Swe, cofounder of English-language weekly newspaper The Myanmar Times, also took shares and became chief executive officer and editor-in-chief, respectively.

Soe Myint said MMG had “borrowed money” from Serge Pun for its expansion, but he declined to elaborate on whether the organization was indebted to the prominent businessman. He added that his company now hopes to attract business partners in the private sector in order to sustain its media operations.

Sonny Swe did not directly address answer question as to why he was leaving Mizzima Media Group, saying only that there had been “no problems” between him and Soe Myint, before adding, “But we have a different management style.”

He said he and Serge Pun voluntarily transferred ownership of their shares to Soe Myint, adding that he hoped to continue to be active in Burma’s media industry. “If U Serge Pun has the desire to cooperate as a partner with me I have no reason to refuse,” he said.

Soe Myint, a former exiled dissident who was acquitted for hijacking a Burmese airplane by an Indian court, founded Mizzima in New Delhi in 1998 in order to cover events in military-run Burma.

Serge Pun founded the multinational Serge Pun & Associates Myanmar Limited in 1991 and set up Yoma Bank the following year. SPA Myanmar has since become a sprawling conglomerate with interests in financial services, construction, real estate, the automotive industry and health care.

Daily Mizzima was among a slew of news organization that set up a private print newspaper after President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government allowed the publication of dailies in April 2013, lifting decades-old, junta-era restrictions on Burma’s media.

Burmese journalists eagerly set up independent newspapers, giving the country a vibrant, unruly media landscape. The Voice, 7 Day Daily, Daily Eleven and The Messenger were among the local-language papers to go daily, while The Myanma Freedom Daily was the first English-language daily to go into print.

Many publications have since run it into economic trouble and struggle to compete with state-run newspapers, which are sold at low prices, benefit from existing distribution networks and have a large circulation of more than 300,000 copies. At least five local newspapers have shut down since April 2013, including The Myanma Freedom, which suspended publication in March 2014.

Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze.