State-Run Newspaper Launches Ethnic Languages Supplement

By Asohn VI 1 August 2014

MOULMEIN, Mon State — State-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar will begin publishing a weekly news supplement in Mon, Pa-O and Karen languages this month, local officials said on Thursday. The initiative by the Ministry of Information is being viewed with suspicion by local ethnic media, however.

Min Nwe Soe, Mon State Planning and Economics Minister, told The Irrawaddy that Myanma Alinn, the Burmese version of the state-run newspaper, will appear with a weekly one-page supplement in local languages in Mon and Karen states per Aug 1.

“The newly-established Moulmein branch is working to publish those [ethnic] languages weeklies during a trial period, and there are plans to publish daily articles in the future,” he said.

Myanma Alinn announced on Thursday that it would publish the local language supplements in order to “preserve ethnic languages, literature, culture, traditions and customs, develop social network media, and provide reliable news for human resources development of local people.”

Myo Min Oo, a Moulmein journalist working on the Mon language supplement, said, “We want to present many news stories, but the space is limited.”

“To feature many news stories, we need more manpower. Now, the supplement can just fit one page of news. We have to summarize the news and give priority to news that our ethnic nationalities should know.”

The new supplements of Myanma Alinn, which is published by the Ministry of Information, rely on part-time work by local ethnic minority reporters who translate the news into local languages.

However, mistrust of the Burman majority-dominated government remains strong among minorities, following decades of conflict and repression of political and cultural rights of minorities under the previous military regime.

The Information Ministry claims that it is reforming the state-run newspapers and broadcast media, but the outlets have a long history as propaganda tools of the Burmese government.

As a result, the Myanma Aillin branch in Moulmein is reportedly struggling to attract enough ethnic reporters to carry out translation work.

“Ethnics have not trusted the government their whole life and are concerned that they might become stooges of the government newspapers. Therefore, there is a lack of cooperation,” said Myo Min Oo.

Ethnic journalists are also reluctant to accept editorial instructions from local information and public relations department that could amount to control or censorship of ethnic language news.

Myo Min Oo added that ethnic reporters carrying out translation work feel that, “Some news stories that come from the information and public relations department may not be important.”

Independent ethnic media were long published in exile but have been allowed to print in country in recent years following the introduction of political reforms.

The outlets said they worried that the launch of local language state media was aimed at undercutting the fledgling ethnic media.

“The state-run newspaper already gained upper hand over us in terms of prices,” said Ko Min Min Nwe, executive director of Than Lwin Times Journal, one of three independent ethnic media published in Mon and Karen States.

“Depending on the freshness of the news [in Myanma Allin], it may impact local journals,” he said. “But for now it is just a one-page supplement and unless it features unbiased news it won’t be a rival to local journals.”

Moulmein newspaper and journal sales agent Ko Aye Htoo said, “It is likely that demand for Myanma Alinn may increase in Hpa-an [Karen State]. A number of people have just ordered the newspaper for tomorrow.

“Now, it is difficult to say how high the demand will be since the ethnic-language page is featured only once a week. If it is featured daily, there can be increased demand.”

In Mon and Karen states, there are two biweekly Mon and Burmese language publications, The Than Lwin Times and Tha Naung Times (Guiding Star), while Karen News is a monthly publication in Burmese and Karen languages.