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.”