In Myanmar, the Changing Political Environment Brings New Challenges for Media Outlets

A new report analyzes the transition the news media sector in Myanmar is undergoing since the political reforms that began in 2010.

During the last eight years, Myanmar has gone from an environment where the government had total control of media, mobile phone use was concentrated in the hands of a privileged few, journalism training was conducted in secret, and the internet was a foreign planet — to a sector that includes a plurality of media, returned exile news media and explosive growth online (mainly Facebook). Regional and ethnic media outlets have sprung up although they are relatively smaller than national and other privately-owned media organizations.

On the downside, the main beneficiaries of growth have been state-owned or aligned media; the much-anticipated move towards public service media has not materialized. Major challenges include slowing economic growth, local voices being lost, persecution of media workers by the government, the explosion of online hate speech and misinformation, and independent news media struggling to survive on the roughly 25% of the advertising market left to them by the state-owned and aligned media.

The report notes that news media and journalism are challenged by a backwards-moving legal/political environment at the same time they need independence, innovation and revenue to succeed in the digital environment.

The report concludes that to create a vibrant overall media sector in Myanmar, the government must have the political will to create a vibrant public service media sector. It should stop competing for revenue against the news media it licenses, regulates, can sue, prosecute and imprison. It must also further develop the legal infrastructure supporting media. And it should take steps to ensure that ethnic and regional news media, often operating in rural and conflict-filled environments, can thrive.

The Business Environment for News Media in Myanmar report was produced by Michelle Foster who worked for Internews under the USAID-funded Civil Society and Media Project.