Media Experts Support Shuttering of Info Ministry

By Kyaw Hsu Mon & Moe Myint 3 February 2016

RANGOON — With the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government pledging to cut or consolidate government ministries to reduce state expenditure, many observers have pointed to the Ministry of Information as in line to be scrapped.

Kyaw Min Swe, editor in chief of The Voice Daily newspaper, described the information ministry as a “free propaganda mechanism for Thein Sein’s government” and said it should be disbanded.

The ministry, which since August 2014 has been headed by Ye Htut, has three state-run daily newspapers—The Global New Light of Myanmar, Myanma Alinn and The Mirror—under its purview, alongside TV and radio broadcasters.

“Some lawmakers say if there is no state-run newspaper, how will people know about Parliament and government news? I say, there are many private newspapers and you can advertise there. It would cut costs,” Kyaw Min Swe said.

Since late 2012, the information ministry has championed a plan to transform state-owned newspapers into “public service media,” a proposal criticized by many industry experts who contend state-backed print media is unnecessary, with few comparable initiatives around the world, and would keep other private, independent dailies at a disadvantage.

Myint Kyaw of the Myanmar Journalist Network also calls for the shuttering of the information ministry, arguing that it can’t possibly keep abreast of the workings of each government ministry and convey accurate information to the public.

He said each ministry under the new government should have its own public relations department, eclipsing the need for a separate information ministry.

The state-owned broadcaster MRTV should be utilized as a public-service outlet, with an independent board, to publicize information in the public interest, Myint Kyaw said.

Independent broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) recently opened an online survey on the ministry’s future, with over 80 percent of netizens (453 votes) in favor of its closure at time of publication, with voting still open.

Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief, said state-owned media should largely vanish under the incoming NLD government and called on the new ruling party to ensure more transparency on any decisions related to Burma’s media landscape.

“Providing information… through a single ministry [MOI] to all media houses was absolutely the wrong system,” he said.

Nyan Lynn, editor in chief of Maw Kun Magazine, concurred that state-owned newspapers, overseen by the information ministry, had no place in a democratic system.

“If there is an information team in every ministry, state-run newspapers are not necessary. The only thing that needs to be considered is how to manage employees under the MOI,” he said.

Speaking to reporters in December, Ye Htut, who is also presidential spokesperson, said he hoped the NLD would consider the careers and livelihoods of the ministry’s 7,000 employees—3,000 of whom work for its various media enterprises—when implementing bureaucratic reforms.

“There should be no state-run newspaper, radio or TV as they are spending a lot,” said political analyst Yan Myo Thein, another commentator who backs the disbanding of the information ministry after the NLD assumes office in April.