Monday, August 21, 2017

Myanmar media reform: Publish and be damned?

A vendor sells journals on the streets of Yangon January 2012. (Yadanar/The Myanmar Times)A vendor sells journals on the streets of Yangon January 2012. (Yadanar/The Myanmar Times)

The announcement was hailed around the world as a further sign of reform: Myanmar would again allow privately owned daily newspapers from April 1.

In the media industry, where companies and journalists have lobbied hard for the right to publish daily rather than weekly, the news was greeted with a mixture of relief and trepidation, as the reality of compiling, printing and distributing a newspaper every 24 hours sunk in.

Even the editor-in-chief of one of the nation’s highest-circulation publications, U Thaung Su Nyein of 7Day News Journal, was unsure whether his team would be ready by April. He admits he was surprised that the announcement came so soon.

“Daily takes a lot of work – finance, human resources, machinery, more procedures and also responsibilities. We will try our best to be able to run daily by April. But things might not go well for whatever reasons. We might start later than that,” said U Thaung Su Nyein, who is also managing director of the 7Days’ publisher, Information Matrix.

Not all papers will make the transition from weekly to daily, and he said the weekly market would become more competitive.

“More people will read daily newspaper so only those strong weekly journals with solid news and opinion will remain. Small and uninteresting journals will get even fewer readers.”

But Mr Ross Dunkley, managing director of Myanmar Consolidated Media, which publishes The Myanmar Times in English and Myanmar, said he was confident his organisation would make the transition successfully.

“We have known for some time that [the announcement] was just around the corner and have commenced our planning,” he said.

“I’m confident that we have enough time to prepare ourselves. … This is going to be a tremendously exciting period for our organisation and we will pursue our goal. We’ve waited for this for a long time.”

While reports have suggested there could soon be eight to 10 daily newspapers, Mr Dunkley said there was “not room for 10 players or even half of that number”.

“I predict at the end of year one there will be no more than three left in the game,” he said. “I’d say don’t be in this game if you can’t afford to spend US$2 million or more. It wouldn’t be hard to drop $5 million before you saw some light.”

For journals lacking human or financial resources to go daily alone, there is the option of combining with like-minded publishers or focusing on smaller geographic areas, such as a single city or state and region. Dr Myo Min Htike, the owner of Venus News Journal, said he had already begun discussions with “some friends who share the same spirit and eagerness to publish daily”.

“We might combine to be a big publication but are still just discussing it at the moment,” he said. “The main challenges are capital, the staff capacity, printing and distribution.”

Even if his publication remains a weekly, he said he has plans to reform its contents to remain competitive in the daily environment.

“When daily private newspapers come out, I will definitely change our style. At the moment we focus mostly just on news.”