RANGOON — As pre-poll politicking continues to ramp up just over two weeks out from Burma’s Nov. 8 general election, two state-run newspapers raised eyebrows on Thursday after publishing blow-by-blow accounts of the government’s achievements over the past five years.
Editions of the state-run daily newspapers Myanmar Ahlin and The Mirror on Thursday both carried the same four-page supplement listing the achievements, sector by sector, of President Thein Sein’s administration from 2011-15.
The government’s economic reforms, from bank cards to insurance to financial sector management, were listed in detail as well as reforms to education, including data depicting an annual increase in budget allocations for the sector.
The supplement cited the introduction of free primary and middle school education, the abolition of high school fees for the 2015-16 academic year and the re-introduction of school-based scouts. It further noted that the country now hosted over 130 universities and colleges and over 22,500 teachers in higher education.
Representatives of two prominent political parties criticized the newspapers’ apparent pro-government bias on Thursday.
“Daily newspapers should only report day to day news, the [government] should not use them for their campaigning,” Khine Maung Yi, a Lower House lawmaker with the National Democratic Force, told The Irrawaddy.
“If the government wants to show what they have done, they should publish end of year [annual reviews] for the people.”
Aye Thar Aung, a veteran of the Arakan National Party (ANP), echoed the sitting lawmaker’s critique, arguing that the conspicuous coverage was “unfair for other political parties.”
“They know that state-run newspapers have a big network and even reach rural areas,” Aye Thar Aung said.
With nationwide printing presses, Burma’s three state-run dailies, including the English-language Global New Light of Myanmar, have a combined circulation which far outstrips other private newspapers.
The ANP official added that he was displeased to hear the Union Solidarity and Development Party campaigning in Arakan State on a platform that suggested that “all bridges, roads and infrastructure” in the state were bequeathed by the ruling party.
Tint Swe, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information, defended Thursday’s supplements, arguing that they were simply republished courtesy of the Sarpay Beikman publishing house and were not issued by the President’s Office.
In recent months, state-run broadcaster MRTV has also run segments directly after regular new programming detailing the work of Thein Sein and his administration.
Last week, the Myanmar Institute for Democracy published a report on pre-election news coverage in Burma, after monitoring many of the nation’s broadcasters, print and online news outlets.
The report found that almost all sources were imbalanced, but that state-owned media fared the worst in fairly representing multiple perspectives and political parties.