Broadcast Law Pending, Concerns Over Govt’s Industry Influence

By Moe Myint 20 July 2015

RANGOON — A new broadcast media bill could further entrench the state’s powerful grip on Burma’s airwaves and send private broadcasters the way of several now-defunct daily newspapers, the deputy executive director of Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has warned.

In the absence of a law regulating the industry, every broadcaster in Burma must partner with Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), a state-owned enterprise operating under the Ministry of Information, and Khin Maung Win of DVB said any bill that fails to level the playing field would leave private broadcasters at a major disadvantage.

His remarks came at a party on Saturday in Rangoon celebrating the 23rd anniversary of the founding of DVB, a formerly exile media outlet that now operates a Rangoon bureau.

Speaking at the event, Pike Htwe, Burma’s deputy information minister, said his ministry had already submitted a draft broadcast media bill to Parliament, calling it a “birthday gift” for DVB. The deputy minister added that he was hopeful lawmakers would pick up the legislation soon.

But Khin Maung Win said any legal framework that did not address the inherent advantages afforded to state broadcasters and joint ventures with the state would imperil the viability of their private counterparts.

“There are too many challenges in Myanmar, to withstand as independent and professional media … there is no insurance to protect independent media organizations,” he said.

Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief, said as it was, broadcasters in Burma tended to offer “soft” news and entertainment programming at the expense of more traditional news broadcasting.

“Broadcast media houses like entertainment. They broadcast only football matches, entertainment, and there is no news presentation,” he said.

Burma’s media environment has undergone a rapid transformation in recent years, from a harsh censorship regime under Burma’s former military regime to the abolition of pre-publication screening in 2012 and the granting of the first daily newspaper licenses in a half century on April 1, 2013.

According to Pike Htwe, the Information Ministry has granted 31 daily newspaper licenses, but only 21 are currently publishing, a reflection of the financial strains that the industry faces.

Concerns similar to Khin Maung Win’s have been leveled against Burma’s print state media, which critics say benefit from vastly superior distribution networks and advertising revenue streams compared with the country’s fledgling private dailies. Of the 21 active daily publication licenses, seven are state-owned publications, Pike Htwe said.

DVB was founded in 1992 by exile Burmese activists in Oslo, Norway, in cooperation with the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a political organization formed to oppose the ruling military regime of the time. Both organizations were formed in exile, and the NCGUB was dissolved in September 2012.