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Myanmar's Private Newspaper: A Tottering "New Favorite"

2014-01-10 11:57:00   By:China-ASEAN    Hits:


Over one year ago, Myanmar abolished news censorship, and in April 2013, it lifted its ban on press. After that, private newspapers emerge like mushrooms after rain. Despite the boom, Myanmar’s newspapers are facing a common problem -- how to make profits. The Irrawaddy claimed that some newly-born private newspapers fall behind others in their “infancy” since Myanmar’s newspapering is dominated by state-run newspapers.

The Embarrassment of the Newborn

Not long ago, U Sonny Swe, CEO of Mizzima Media Group, stated at the interview by New York Times, “Every publisher is bleeding. You have to be ready to fight and ready to lose.” The newspapers he mentioned are those private newspapers founded after the relief of press ban.

In the 1960s, private newspapers were banned in Myanmar. From 1988 onward, private weekly publications were allowed, but only under strict censorship. These systems had lasted till 2012 when the Myanmar government abolished the news censorship and lifted the press ban in April, 2013, which announced the end of half-a-century news blackout in Myanmar.

The end of press ban gave birth to the surge of Myanmar’s private newspapers. At the beginning of 2013, 26 private companies were granted the license to publish daily papers. In April, private daily papers were available in the market. For the first time in half a century, the Myanmar people had access to uncensored newspapers

81-year-old Khin Maung Lay is the chief editor of Golden Fresh Land, a local private newspaper. On April 1st when the newspaper first showed up on the newsstands, this old man, who has witnessed the boom of newspapering after World War II, felt very excited. He recalled that Myanmar’s newspapering flourished with various newspapers including the Myanmar language newspaper, English language newspaper, Indian language newspaper and Chinese language newspaper after World War II. “The prosperity is likely to be reproduced nowadays”, as he emphasized.

This might just be a good wish of an old newspaperman. Despite expectations of pent- up demand, publishers say they are suffering from unexpectedly low circulation, a lack of advertising and competition from the Internet. These have broken all the beautiful wishes into pieces. “In July, 2013, there were 12 daily papers in the market. Now, 3 of them have closed down and the rest 9 are not reporting profits”, said U Saw Lynn Aung, a paper media researcher.


Hard Time for Private Newspapers

Among the remaining private newspapers, The 7 Day Daily has an easier time. Daw Nyein Nyein Naing, the executive editor at the daily, said that compared to the depressed market demand, finding good reporters had been difficult. Her reporters are addicted to Facebook , and often post scoops to their Facebook pages, rather than filing stories to their editors.

“It was our dream to have a daily paper,” Ms. Nyein Nyein Naing said. “Sometimes I feel that maybe it was too early for Myanmar to have daily newspapers. We are not giving the best quality to readers. Maybe we were not ready, especially on the human resources side.”

U Saw Lynn Aung also pointed out in the interview with The Irrawaddy that the private newspapers had impressed the readers with high quality at the very beginning. But as time passes by, some newspapers are losing strength due to bad management and the resignation of outstanding journalists and editors who are not highly paid.

These problems have also haunted U Thiha Saw, the founder of Myanmar’s only private English-language daily -- Myanma Freedom Daily. This longtime journalist has clashed with censors many times during military rule, trying to call off news censorship. Now, the system has been abolished, but he finds that it’s not an easy job to run a newspaper in Myanmar.

“We scrimped and saved and sold our apartment. Relatives and friends chipped in.” said Mr. Thiha Saw, who also courted outside investors but was worried that their money might come with “strings attached”.

Some publishers revealed that Myanmar’s private newspapers have faced huge financial pressures. A colored daily means a loss of two to threes thousand US dollars each day. In a country where annual per capita income is less than one thousand US dollars, a super rich man could not even afford it.


The “Proud” State-run Newspapers

Although private newspapers have sprung up in Myanmar, local advertisers do not seem to be interested in them. “Only two newly-founded dailies have enough adverting clients and the readers are used to getting information from these two papers. They are The Daily Eleven and The 7 Day Daily”, said U Saw Lynn Aung, “Their daily circulation exceeds 50,000 copies.”

U Than Htut Aung, the chairman of the Eleven Media Group, said he printed about 85,000 copies of The Daily Eleven each day, which is not yet profitable despite being the largest private daily newspaper. According to Wai Phyo, chief editor of The Daily Eleven, most of the private dailies in Myanmar have a “sister magazine”. These dailies could not distinguish themselves from their magazines which are favored by advertisers. So, the dailies do not appeal to the advertisers.

In Wai Phyo’s eyes, Myanmar people’s curiosity has contributed to the thriving of private newspapers. But, as people’s curiosity fades, some newspapers died in the fierce competition of newspapering.

When talking about the hardships of running a newspaper, U Ko Ko, the founder and CEO of The Yangon Times, said that the most difficult thing facing the private newspapers is that they do not have “privileges” like the state-run newspapers. The two main rivals of The Yangon Times are The Mirror and The New Light of Myanmar, who have steady flow of adverting. The advertisers could even get government subsidies from it while the private newspapers are completely out of it.

Seek for a Better Future

The Atlantic has ever covered that the lack of infrastructure construction might hinder the development of private newspapers in Myanmar. It was reported that the incomplete logistics networks and backward communication network had exerted great difficulties in sending the ready-to-print papers to the printing house and delivering the newspapers to specified newsstands.

The New York Times claimed that distribution in big cities is still unreliable for the private papers, especially during the rainy season, and nearly nonexistent in the countryside. And the price of private papers is too high for many readers while state-run publications sell for a fraction of that.

Other than completing with state-run newspapers, Myanmar’s private newspapers have to fight for audience with the increasingly influential internet. “Newspapers are so new for this country -- that is why everyone is publishing”, said Mr. Sonny Swe. “But you don’t want to be in newspapers for 10 years,” he said. “Our future is in mobile.”

Despite of the negative attitude of the public, the chief editor of The 7 Day Daily is very confident in private newspapers. In his eyes, Myanmar’s adverting market is growing and the private newspapers will certainly benefit from it. “During the off season, advertising income could not even cover the operation cost. Now, in the peak season, we can make profits from the increased advertisements. Newspaper advertising will grow in the long run”, he said.

This is not a blind optimistic point of view. In November, 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that with the progress of its political reform, Myanmar, a country with a population of 60 million and considerable untapped resources, is attracting enormous foreign investors after being forgotten for decades. The development of economy calls for the engagement of media. “No matter how hard it is, we have already seen hope in the distance.” 

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