Private Dailies Face Ongoing Struggle with Competition, Costs and Online Options

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 12 February 2016

RANGOON — The outlook for print media in Burma remains grim in the near-term, industry experts contend, with private outlets still grappling with how to make their ventures financially secure in a market where online platforms have gained prominence.

Publishing costs have risen while sales are down, according to Aung Paw Tun, former managing editor of the Messenger Daily which was freely distributed to readers before closing in December. The Messenger continues to run a weekly journal.

“If copies sell for under 5,000 kyat per day and there are not enough advertisements, [dailies] won’t survive in the market,” Aung Paw Tun said.

“There are only four or five daily newspapers with better circulation which can [compete] right now, but most can’t compete against government-run newspapers.”

There are currently less than 10 private dailies in circulation, including 7Day Day; Daily Eleven; The Voice; The Standard Times; Democracy Today; Pyi Myanmar; Mandalay Ahlin; and the Myanmar Times.

They compete against three amply resourced state-run daily newspapers, The Global New Light of Myanmar, Myanma Alinn and The Mirror.

Under the administration of President Thein Sein, pre-publication censorship was abolished in August 2012 and the lifting of a ban on private dailies came into effect in April 2013. By the end of that year, 26 private dailies were on the market—a number that has since dramatically fallen.

The state-run dailies often distribute more than 200,000 copies per day, while private dailies maximum circulation only infrequently reaches 100,000 copies.

Min Zaw, former deputy managing editor of The Trade Times Journal, which ceased publication last year, explained the paper’s demise.

“Here the newspaper market is very small, we can’t compete with online media. Social media is used more by people now; they don’t want a paper, they just want to read quick news via social media,” he said.

Internet connectivity and mobile phone use has soared in Burma under the administration of President Thein Sein, with many nationals now turning to online sources of news.

According to Myanmar Now, citing Facebook figures, from March 2014 to March 2015, the number of Facebook users in Burma grew by over 200 percent to 6-7 million monthly users. Prominent officials such as army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and former Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann now have widely-followed Facebook accounts.

Min Zaw also identified a lack of human resources as contributing to local print media’s woes, while stressing the importance of enabling an independent press.

“The media should not be used as a tool by anyone or any organizations,” he said.

Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of The Voice, said he had considered pulling the plug several times since launching the daily newspaper in 2013.

“I can say our newspaper is still losing money,” he said.

“Currently, due to the high expense of printing, newspapers and journals have increased their sales price, but are still losing money.”

Private daily newspapers are typically priced at around 200-300 kyat, while the state-run dailies are priced at around 100 kyat.

“When I worked for the former Interim Press Council, I urged the government to help private newspapers if they were going to [enable a] democratic country. But they just tried to monopolize the market,” 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.

However, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) preparing to form government from April, the state-owned dailies, which are run by the Ministry of Information, face an uncertain future.

“I hope a democratic government can create a better media industry,” said Aung Paw Tun of the political changes ahead.

Despite the challenges, more new media outlets may be around the corner. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Information approved 28 new publishing licenses, including for newspapers, magazines and journals.