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Myanmar pursuing the next phase of media reform

©UNESCO/S.Chaiyasook & S.Gabai

28.02.2013

Myanmar is now in the midst of the second phase of the media reform process. Deputy Minister U Ye Htut of Ministry of Information shared a comprehensive update on completed, current and future media reforms in Myanmar at the first meeting of the Media Development Thematic Working Group (MDTWG) held in Yangon on 9 February 2013.

According to the Deputy Minister, the first phase focused on dismantling of media censorship which began in 2012, while the ongoing second phase focuses on the transformation of state-owned media into public service media.

The first MDTWG was convened by the Ministry of Information (MoI) and UNESCO, co-chairs of the Group and was presided by MoI Deputy Minister Ye Htut and UNESCO Yangon programme manager Sardar Umar Alam. Thirty-five participants from 18 institutions attended the meeting including the Ministry of Information, development partners and national media groups.

The MoI official described the removal of censorship with the abolition of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board as necessary to be consistent “with Myanmar Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR).”

Initiatives to craft new media laws in Myanmar, particularly for press, broadcasting, cinema (film), library, and public service media are also a highlight of this first phase of media reform in Myanmar. At present the press law is being drafted by the independent Myanmar Press Council and a draft broadcasting law is being finalized. The draft law, according to the Deputy Minister, was enriched by inputs from UNESCO, International Media Service (IMS), and other development partners. It is envisioned to be completed in August or September 2013.

Another development during the first phase is the government’s decision to allow private dailies starting April 2013. Deputy Minister Ye Htut expressed hope that this opening up of media will also encourage individuals and groups to set up newspapers at the state/regional level, especially for ethnic communities.

In the second phase of media reform, the Deputy Minster told that MoI will pursue the creation of public service media, since he stressed that: “a commercial media system may not always be able to provide balanced content or information needed by the public.”

The public service media will be accorded financial and editorial independence even as the envisioned public service newspaper and public service broadcasting will depend on public subsidy without strings attached for up to 70 per cent.

A regional media system concept is also addressed so that media development is not only concentrated in Yangon but other regions/states as well. It is hoped that there would be 20 centers developed within 2013-2014.

The MoI official also highlighted the need for an ethnic minority channel and an open-air parliamentary channel (The current are being only available on cable). Ethnic communities will be provided access to FM transmitter stations and community radio stations.

Continuing media reforms have encouraged the international community to provide support to the MoI on “an ad hoc or case by case basis.” Deputy Minster U Ye Htut expressed his desire for a long-term partnership. He emphasized that development support should be coordinated to avoid overlapping and ensure complementation.

The MoI official acknowledged that the MDTWG can provide the coordinating mechanism, while an annual conference on media development can serve as a venue for preparing a media development plan.  These considerations were the basis for the Union Minister of Information to approve the creation of the MDTWG chaired by MoI and co-chaired by UNESCO.

“With the important international attention that Myanmar is receiving since the beginning of its democratic reform, it is important that international cooperation is properly coordinated in order to avoid overlapping and duplication efforts, as we have unfortunately seen in other parts of the world in the past. The role of this working group is therefore crucial for the success of media development assistance in the country,” said Rosa Maria Gonzalez, Adviser for Communication and Information of UNESCO Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau in Bangkok.

 

By Ramon R. Tuazon and Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok