Second Ethnic Newspaper Shuttered by Chin State Govt

By Nyein Nyein 21 October 2014

An unregistered minority-focused newspaper was ordered to shut down in northwestern Burma’s Chin State last week, the second such forced closure within a month.

The Falam Post, a Falam-language daily founded in June 2014, typically covers local news and government activity. With a circulation of about 1,000 copies, the paper is distributed in Falam, Chin State capital Hakha and Kalaymyoe in neighboring Sagaing Division.

Falam Township authorities issued the order to cease operations under instruction of the Chin State government, according to the publisher, Bam Lian Hmung. Local authorities offered no further explanation, he said.

“The notice letter we received said that the order is in accordance with a decision by the Chin State government, and the newspaper can only proceed after obtaining permission to publish under the new media law,” Bam Lian Hmung told The Irrawaddy.

An official at the Falam District Information and Public Relations Department confirmed that the order came directly from state-level administrators.

In late September, the Hakha district administrator similarly ordered the sudden closure of the Hakha Post, published in the Lai language. The biweekly newspaper with a circulation of about 2,500 copies was shuttered under the order of the state’s chief minister.

President Thein Sein’s administration has initiated sweeping media reforms; a pre-publication censorship board was dissolved in August 2012 and a new legislative package has since been approved to regulate the fourth estate.

Two new laws make up the bulk of Burma’s media reform: the government-drafted Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law and a Media Law written by the semi-independent Press Council. The former, which replaced the junta-era Printers and Publishers Registration Law, was criticized from the outset for preserving some of the old legislation’s draconian provisions.

The relaxation of strict censorship, however, has opened up the media landscape in various parts of the country and many new publications have started printing in ethnic minority languages, which was formerly restricted by government policies.

The Chin Media Network, a non-governmental alliance of journalists, said that there are now more than 20 ethnic-language publications produced in the state, four of which are officially registered with the central government.

Some papers issue periodic ethnic-language editions, like the officially registered Chinland Herald, which publishes bimonthly Falam-language journals in addition to their Burmese run.

Minority focused news is invaluable to local consumers, according to Chin World Media editor Salai Hoang Htun Gay, who is also a member of the Chin Media Network. He said that such publications fill a major information gap by delivering news in native languages to places where mainstream Burmese media is often out of reach.

Not only does this provide marginalized communities with much needed information that might not otherwise reach them, but it also fosters literacy and preserves a part of the culture, he said.

“Community papers publish in accordance with their constitutional rights,” explained Salai Hoang Htun Gay, “communities can freely develop their language, literature, culture and belief.”

Bam Lian Hmung said that he intends to register The Falam Post and resume publication, but that could be a lengthy process; registration services are not currently available in the remote and mountainous township, which is near the Indian border. He said that he has been advised to travel to Rangoon to complete the process, which he hopes to complete by next month.

The publisher said that during their first four months of operation, they had not had any interference from the government and he believes that growing readership is behind the sudden enforcement.