Closing State-Run News Outlets Will Cause Ethnic Media to ‘Suffer’: MOI Official

By Moe Myint 15 February 2016

MRAUK-OO, ARAKAN STATE – Ethnic representatives rejected a claim made by a Ministry of Information (MOI) official on Sunday that the future of ethnic media is intertwined with that of state-run news services.

If Myanmar TV (MRTV)—the government-owned broadcasting service—is dissolved, then ethnic media will suffer, said permanent secretary Tint Swe of the MOI at the 4th Ethnic Media Conference in Arakan State.

Burma News International (BNI), an ethnic media coalition, hosted the conference in the ancient Arakan capital of Mrauk Oo.

Nan Paw Gay, BNI’s executive director, countered Tint Swe, pointing out that BNI’s ethnic media partners had never received government funds, although she noted that the MOI had approached BNI and offered financial support to its members.

“Demolishing the MOI and the continued existence of BNI partners are different issues, because all of our partners are independent,” she explained. The dissolution of broadcasters like MRTV, she argued, would not have an adverse effect on them.

Some journalists have criticized the MOI as attempting to associate with ethnic media to advance their own interests, including on passing a so-called public service media law that would have transformed state-owned media organizations into “public service” outlets. The bill was ultimately withdrawn from Parliament in March last year.

Media insiders have spoken in support of the shuttering of the MOI, claiming that the state-run newspapers—Myanma Ahlin, The Mirror and The Global New Light of Myanmar—are unnecessary and create market challenges for independent daily papers. These three newspapers also have the highest circulations in Burma.

A participant in the BNI conference from the Northern Shan State Media Network, secretary Mya Wun Yan, said that Tin Swe did not specify which type of ethnic media would be affected—print or broadcast.

“His speech was totally unrelated to the independent ethnic media because we haven’t received any aid from MOI. His words are related to some MOI proxy broadcasts,” she said.

Last year, the MOI established so-called national race channels (NRC) in some ethnic regions and provided financial and technical support for broadcasting. Some broadcasters affiliated with MOI are now producing radio programs in the ethnic Shan language for local audiences, said Mya Wun Yan.

Speaking to reporters in December, Ye Htut, who leads the Ministry of Information and also serves as presidential spokesperson, said he hoped the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government would consider the careers and livelihoods of the MOI’s 7,000 employees—3,000 of whom work for state-run media enterprises—when pursuing reforms.