The Irrawaddy

Information Minister Explains State Media Enterprise’s Projected 1.2bn Kyat Loss

YANGON— Information Minister U Pe Myint has blamed the rise of the dollar exchange rate and the decrease in advertisement-generating revenue for the losses expected to be made by the state-run newspapers in the upcoming fiscal year.

Answering questions from lawmakers in his ministry, the minister said in parliament that it is expected that losses of 1.158 billion kyats ($770, 000) will be made in the 2018-19 fiscal year because of the rise of the dollar exchange rate which causes higher costs of purchasing raw materials for the publications and because income from advertisements is decreasing year-on-year due to the growth in online media.

“But as a state-owned enterprise, we will find ways to make the losses as low as possible,” he told lawmakers on Thursday.

The estimated losses by the News and Periodicals Enterprise (NPE) under the Information Ministry was questioned by a Lower House lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo of Yangon’s Kyauktan constituency.

The NPE runs three state-owned daily newspapers: The Mirror and Myanma Alinn Daily in the Burmese language and the English-language Global New Light of Myanmar which is running as a joint venture with a private company.

The MP Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo pointed out on Wednesday that the enterprise uses state buildings and land for the operations and money from the state budget to pay staff. Moreover, she said, state media dominates the market in terms of circulation and they are getting plenty of advertisements.

Information Minister U Pe Myint responded on Thursday at the parliament that the ministry has in fact been spending its own funds from the other accounts (OAs) to pay staff and pensions, along with other expenses, since the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“We are selling state-run newspapers at affordable prices with the aim of getting information to the public rather than making a profit,” he said, using an example of a 35-page newspaper which cost 115 kyats to publish, yet has a sale price set at 50 kyats.

Despite the low sale prices, until the first six months of 2018, the enterprise hadn’t made a loss since the 2011-12 fiscal year, he said.

As part of its efforts to reduce the expected losses in the upcoming fiscal year, the ministry will expand circulation in order to reach more rural areas; reduce spending as much as they can; and seek to increase income from advertisements, the minister said, adding that some tax exemptions under the new 2018 tax law could also help to reduce losses.

However, the author and former journalist U Pe Myint who also served as vice chairman of the Myanmar Press Council, disagreed with the Upper House lawmaker U Ye Htut’s call to privatize all state-run newspapers.

“Even other organizations, business firms and associations use media for the effectiveness of their operations. The government is responsible for reporting what they are doing to the people who voted for them. The information ministry also has a duty to inform and educate people. Thus, the [state-run] newspapers should continue as a medium.”

In response to the minister’s explanations on Thursday, lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo told The Irrawaddy that while it is controversial whether state media should exist or not, high costs of raw materials and decreased income from advertisements are not good enough reasons to account for losses of millions of kyats as the enterprise operates using state budget and also still dominates the market.

The MP said she will follow up by reading the auditor-general’s report at the end of the fiscal year in order to understand the enterprise’s spending and budget mismanagement.