New Japanese Light for Burma’s State-Backed Mouthpiece
By Simon Roughneen 16 August 2013
RANGOON — Staff from The New Light of Myanmar will visit the Tokyo headquarters of Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency, for training in advance of the projected launch of a revamped newspaper next year.
“The new version of The New Light of Myanmar will appear in early 2014,” said Ye Naing, general manager of the News and Periodicals section of Burma’s Information Ministry, though other officials, such as Ye Htut, spokesman for President Thein Sein, have suggested that the new-look publication could be ready in time for the Southeast Asia Games, a regional athletics competition to be staged in Naypyidaw in December.
In June, The New Light of Myanmar was partially privatized in a deal that saw Global Direct Link, a hitherto unknown media company, gain a 49 percent stake in the newspaper, with the Burma government retaining 51 percent under the News and Periodicals wing of the Ministry of Information. Kyodo News signed a memorandum of understanding with the Information Ministry in February and will work with Global Direct Link to help restyle The New Light of Myanmar.
The agency’s Rangoon bureau chief Hidenori Tajima told The Irrawaddy that under the terms of the deal with the Information Ministry, Kyodo News will train journalists and technical staff.
“Kyodo has already invited several staff of The New Light of Myanmar to our headquarters, they are going to Tokyo within this month,” he said.
Ye Naing told The Irrawaddy that there will be reciprocal visits by Kyodo News staff to Burma later this year. “Foreigner editors serving at Kyodo News will come to Myanmar and train the staff from The New Light of Myanmar in layout, editing, printing, pre-press works and provide other necessary assistance,” he said.
Backing from the globally recognized Japanese news agency should help improve journalism standards at The New Light of Myanmar—a publication long-scorned as a poorly written and often unintentionally humorous propaganda vehicle for Burma’s military regime and, since 2011, for the Thein Sein government.
“Given the history of The New Light of Myanmar, I would think training by Kyodo could only help with issues like sourcing, understanding the role of journalism in a democratic society,” Yuki Akimoto, director of BurmaInfo Japan, which lobbies the Japanese government on Burma policy, told The Irrawaddy.
But Win Tin, a former journalist and long-time political prisoner, said that technical training would not be enough to improve journalistic standards at The New Light of Myanmar.
“They will have to change their editorial policy and direction to be more like an independent newspaper,” he told The Irrawaddy. “But many media here in Burma are getting this kind of training, and this is needed for many journalists and newspapers, not just New Light of Myanmar,” added Win Tin, a long-time ally of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Japan’s government and Japanese companies have shown a keen interest in Burma since the establishment of a formally civilian government in March 2011. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Burma earlier this year, accompanied by a high-powered delegation of Japanese corporate bosses, writing off almost US$2 billion in Burmese debt to Japan and pledging half a billion dollars’ worth of loans, some which will be used to improve Burma’s dilapidated infrastructure. Next week Japan’s Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi will visit Burma as part of a regional tour ahead of an October Asia-Pacific summit to be held in Brunei.
The burgeoning ties between the two governments helped smooth out the new media partnership, it seems. “Coming out from the meeting between two leaders of Myanmar and Japan that focused on the friendship between the two countries, Japan will help Myanmar, and in the media sector also Japan will help Myanmar. In accord with the result, Kyodo will help develop The New Light of Myanmar,” Ye Naing told The Irrawaddy.