Myanmar Ex-Information Minister Criticizes Successor’s Failure to Reform

By San Yamin Aung 16 September 2019

YANGON—Former information minister U Ye Htut has said he is shocked to see the current government’s icy relationship with private media and that the state-run media remain unchanged under current Information Minister U Pe Myint.

“I personally thought the [government’s] relationship with the media would be better under Sayar Pe Myint’s tenure and that the role of the state-run media would be reduced, as he was the one who once said state-run newspapers should not exist,” said U Ye Htut at a meeting of the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Naypyitaw on Saturday.

He said that in contrast, the government’s relationship with the media has declined in the past few years while state-run media have grown stronger under the National League for Democracy (NLD) administration. He added that seeing this gave him “such a shock that I almost died.”

Many in the media industry expected that U Pe Myint, an author and journalist who also served as vice chairman of the Myanmar Press Council, would introduce reforms to the Ministry of Information and changes to state-run media when he was appointed in March 2016.

But a few months after taking office, the new minister defended the existence of the state-run media in Parliament when a lawmaker argued that private media are at an unfair disadvantage and might fade away. Many from the media industry believe the state-run newspapers monopolize advertising. U Pe Myint said state-run media did not need to be changed and should be a tool for the elected government to inform the public about what it is doing.

U Myint Kyaw of the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) said on Monday that the NLD government’s failure to reform state media over the past three-and-a-half years is surprising.

“We expected that they would definitely make changes to state media but so far they haven’t. If they really take press freedom and democracy seriously, they should reform state media so that they can be a service to the public.”

He added that access to information has also not improved under the NLD government as government ministries rarely give interviews to private media and release breaking news only to state media.

Former minister U Ye Htut condemned the NLD government for controlling the release of information, saying the current administration only takes a “reactive approach” to releasing information. He said that under the previous USDP government, his ministry was proactive, making public statements and immediately allowing media coverage of stories.