Friday, 1 August 2008

Junta May Allow More Daily Newspapers

hmmm what's in it for Ross?

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military regime is reportedly ready to allow a privately owned English language weekly newspaper to go daily.

The Myanmar Times in a report in the July 21 edition quoted CEO Ross Dunkley, an Australian businessman: “Our senior management has been informed that our ambition to turn The Myanmar Times into a daily newspaper is taken seriously.”

“Potentially, that’s all good news and not just for us but for all leading players in the media sector,” he said. “Just as the government is evolving, so must we.”

Staffers at the weekly newspaper have been reshuffled, preparing for changes to the political landscape as the Burmese regime moves towards national elections in 2010, the newspaper said.

A journalist at The Myanmar Times who spoke on condition of anonymity said the weekly plans to launch an English language daily edition by 2009.

An editor with a leading journal in Rangoon noted the junta still does not allow privately owned daily Burmese language newspapers. The government allows three Burmese language daily newspapers and one English language daily newspaper, all state-run.

Journalist sources in Rangoon said information minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan met with officials of Burma’s censorship board and leading weeklies, including The Myanmar Times and Weekly Eleven News, several times.

Kyaw Hsan is known as Burma’s “Comical Ali” because of his whimsical statements. He once said, “A nation may fall under colonial rule because of the media.”

During the meetings, sources said Kyaw Hsan said the regime would likely grant permission for the daily English edition ahead of the election, but did not give a precise date.

The Myanmar Times and Weekly Eleven News declined to comment when contacted by The Irrawaddy.

Ko Ko, the editor of the Yangon Times, said that under the current political environment, the idea of printing a privately owned daily newspaper in Burmese was impossible because Burmese weekly journals were experiencing many difficulties under the regime’s censorship.

He said a private daily newspaper in the English language might be possible, but he said, “It could not be a fully privately owned newspaper, but jointly owned by private parties and the government."

Analysts say at least five Burmese weekly newspapers have the capacity to turn into daily newspapers.

If the regime approves The Myanmar Times’ daily edition, it would be the first daily newspaper partly owned by foreigners during military rule.

The Myanmar Times was formed in 2000 by Ross Dunkley and Sunny Swe, a son of one of Burma’s then high ranking military intelligence officers, Brig-Gen Thein Swe.

Sonny Swe was arrested following the downfall of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2004 and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for corruption.

Burmese publications are strictly censored by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, the formal name of the censorship board of the Ministry of Information.

Editorial boards of Burmese newspapers and magazines traditionally exercise self-censorship in order to publish.

Ohn Kyaing, a veteran journalist in Rangoon, said the media business in Burma must be well-connected to authorities.

“Even if some journals become daily newspapers, the Burmese people still will not experience press freedom if there is censorship of Burma’s media,” he said. “If the junta allows an English language daily newspaper, I am sure the ruling generals are preparing fresh propaganda for foreigners.”

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