Analysis: State Media’s Untold Stories

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 21 March 2017

RANGOON — When asked last year about new policies to be put into practice under his ministry, Burma’s Information Minister U Pe Myint was quite upbeat. He said that the state media would no longer solely provide information about the government but would also publish and broadcast the public’s responses and views.

“There are many different points of view among the public. There are some who agree with government policies and some who may not. If we can make space for them, the government media could hopefully be as interesting as private media. We are planning to do that,” the minister said in June of last year, regarding his ministry’s 100-day plan. It was two months after the National League for Democracy (NLD) had taken office after a landslide electoral victory in 2015, with the campaign slogan “time to change.”

But U Pe Myint’s mission for change has not been completed, even as the NLD government is about to complete one year in office at the end of this month. The three state-run newspapers—The Mirror, Myanma Alinn Daily and The Global New Light of Myanmar—under U Pe Myint’s control have still failed to report on some major news events that made national headlines in private dailies.

When thousands of local people in Mon State took to the streets on Sunday to object to the government’s plan to name a bridge there, none of the government’s media outlets reported the news. The protest may have been the biggest so far to against the elected government.

A few days prior to the Mon State demonstration, several hundred students from Rangoon’s University of Nursing staged a protest against the government’s policy of issuing nurse and midwifery licenses only after years of public service post-graduation. As the largest student-led demonstration under the NLD government thus far, the health minister was required to fly back from an overseas trip to settle the case.

But readers woke up to find nothing about the protest in the government newspapers next day. Were it not for social media and private dailies, people across Burma would not have even known it had occurred.

There are many more stories which have been neglected by the Ministry of Information’s media outlets—including labor strikes, protests against the issuing of National Registration Cards in northern Arakan State, and the State Sangha Council’s ban on sermons by nationalist monk U Wirathu.

U Khin Maung Kyaw Din, the editor-in-chief of The Mirror, told The Irrawaddy that an editorial board decides the content of the paper. He said news of both recent protests in Rangoon and Mon State was omitted but because the reporters filed the stories late, and not because they were about protests against the government.

“When they filed, the stories had [already] been splashed across the front pages of private dailies. That’s why we left them out,” the chief editor said on Tuesday.

He also defended the state media’s practice of prioritizing news related to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Htin Kyaw.

When asked why government newspapers had failed to reform as Minister U Pe Myint had promised, U Khin Maung Kyaw Din blamed it on low capacity.

“We also have to inform [the public] of what the government is doing. At the same time, we lack human resources, and the reporters lack capacity as well. We are upgrading them. There will be more change.”

Irrawaddy reporter San Yamin Aung contributed to this report.