MPs Call for End to State-run Media

By Khin Oo Tha 22 November 2012

A motion to scrap Burmese state-run newspapers, which have recently been linked to murky corruption cases, was submitted to the Union Parliament on Tuesday.

Thein Nyunt, a Lower House MP for the New Democracy Party, proposed the move saying that such outlets should stop publishing as the Ministry of Information (MoI) has been accused of graft in a recent report by the auditor-general and the country is now moving towards democracy.

“Besides, they only cover a small amount of important discussions in Parliament,” he said. “So the private sector should be promoted instead with regards to newspaper publication. The MoI should also think about its plan of transforming outlets into public service media.”

However, Wai Phyo Than, the manager of the government’s Myanma Alin daily newspaper, told The Irrawaddy that he and others had yet to receive any instruction from their superiors regarding the motion. Similarly, private media groups do not hold much hope that Thein Nyunt’s proposal will be accepted.

Ko Ko, the CEO of Yangon Media Group, said he does not think the MoI has any plans to stop publishing state-owned newspapers as they will instead be transformed into public service equivalents.

“I don’t think the MoI has any plan to discontinue them at the moment as it has invested a lot,” he said. “It also owns printing presses so will probably continue with its current plan.”

He added that while the country is in transition, state-run newspapers should not be propaganda machines for the government and ruling party alone, but instead offer free and fair reporting of important issues of interest to the general public.

The MoI recently announced the transformation of state-owned newspapers into public service media and has since begun publishing in a new colorful format. Only black and white versions were available in the past. However, it has faced criticism over a lack of improvement in its coverage.

In March, after thorough investigation, Burmese Auditor-General Thein Htaik revealed that more than 250 million kyat [US $300,000] had been embezzled within the MoI, which ran three newspapers—Kyaymon [The Mirror], Myanma Alin and The New Light of Myanmar.

The report of the auditor-general indicated that such offences occurred over the past four years under the auspices of hardliner former Information Minister Kyaw Hsan.
In November 2011, the Burmese government took action against three Myanma Alin employees for fraud. President Thein Sein also replaced Kyaw Hsan with Aung Kyi in August this year.

The announcement of the switch to public service media came immediately after Aung Kyi’s appointment.

Kyaymon was first published in 1957 as a private newspaper but was nationalized after former dictator Gen Ne Win seized power in 1962. It has only contained favorable news of government since this time. Myanma Alin, a much younger newspaper, was launched in 1993.

In his recent report submitted to the Union Parliament, Thein Htaik detailed 47 corruption cases worth around 60 billion kyat ($70 million) committed by the MoI and 14 other ministries during the 2011-2012 fiscal year. However, state-run newspapers failed to comprehensively cover these allegations.