Asian Correspondent: Burma: State-owned newspapers will be granted ‘editorial independence’ in August 2013

Burma: State-owned newspapers will be granted ‘editorial independence’ in August 2013 (click to view article)

Burma’s state-owned newspapers are taking up the change with attempts to fine-tune themselves in the direction of restructuring as ‘Public Service Media’. As a result, the government of Burma (Myanmar) has formed the five-member Governing Body in order to transform the three dailies – Myanma Alin, Kyemon and the New Light of Myanmar – currently run by the Ministry of Information into Public Service Media (PSM) under Notification No 72/2012 dated 18-10-2012, the state-run media said on 20 October.

Ye Tint, retired Chief Editor of the Kyemon Daily, is the chairman of the Governing Body and the secretary is Kyaw Soe, Managing Director of News and Periodicals Enterprise. Three other members are Ye Myint Pe (retired Chief Editor of Myanma Alin Daily), Ye Naing Moe (Journalism Expert) and Kyaw Zaw Naing (Legal Expert) respectively.

On 20 December, correspondents from The New Light of Myanmar observed the initiative of PSM by interviewing the governing body’s chairman Ye Tint and members Ye Myint Pe and Kyaw Zaw Naing.

Firstly, one of the correspondents asked about opinion on the comment an MP recently made at the parliament that the democratic government needn’t run the state-owned newspapers anymore.

Chairman of the Governing Body explained that the people used to call the government-owned newspaper as the government controlled daily. However, it is undeniable that some democratic countries have their own papers or government mouthpieces. If the newspapers are being transformed into public service newspapers, they would cover the desires of the people, he said. ‘Public Service Media’ (PSM) has to speak on behalf of the people in favor of reforms with due transparency. To contribute to the welfare of the people is the most important and any newspaper that fails to meet the people’s demands would fall, he added.

Another question is about the policies and work plans of the governing body to improve “form and content” of the newspapers.

The content is a general matter, Ye Tint answered. The government spends its money to improve the ‘form’ in the long run providing journalism courses to have ability over reporting. The Governing Body would urge the newspapermen to commit their job while the body has been fulfilling the capability in reporting, he explained. The courses cover both journalism basics and legal matters in which the journalists are weak, he said. The Governing Body has plans to open a School of Journalism, he added.

Another interesting question was what kinds of changes for switching government-owned newspapers into Public Service Media.

Chairman Ye Tint mentioned the Notification No. 72/2012 of the Union Government dated 18-10-2012 states that the newspapers would be transformed into Public Service Media (PSM). All the news stories must represent all the citizens, it says. According to the governing body’s work plans, ‘prestige and profit’ would be the main concern, Ye Tint said. He also said that the PSM will be granted ‘editorial independence’ as well as ‘financial independence’ later.

According to a Government Notification No. 72/2012, the Governing Body will put into service essential policies and programmes, draw necessary ethics and principles for the newspapers and supervise the task for realization of principles of Public Service Media so as to transform Myanma Alin, Kyemon and The New Light of Myanmar to public service media outlets.

As he explained more details, the chief editors, deputy-chief editors and editors who are included in the executive board would be guaranteed to take advantage of ‘editorial independence’. Gradual transformation of Myanma Alinn and Kyemon into PSMs will be completed by August 2013 while The New Light of Myanmar will be run under a joint venture, he said.

He continued explanations that information on guiding principles will be provided in details. PSMs will publish scholastic articles as well. Depending on the value of the news, further news will be edited as necessary. PSMs will be created as genuine Fourth Estate through the public opinion and the newspapers will carry constructive criticisms against Three Estates. The policies of the government will be revealed in a more eye-catching style of inscription. The size of the newspapers will be modified to the international-standard dimension.

Kyaw Zaw Naing answered the query concerning journalism training to improve the “form and content”, rather than teaching theories. He said that theory is important. Journalists need to learn theories to know ‘codes of ethics’ and ‘codes of conduct’ of each newspaper. They need to know ethics to avoid possible risks. The Code of Ethic is concerned with everyone and the Code of Conduct with each newspaper house, he said.

In the legal perspective, today’s newspapers cover many news items that could be prosecuted, he said. The journalists need to know the law was necessary knowledge. For example, the person who is not found guilty by a court cannot be mentioned as a “culprit”. The law does not favour the unknowing error, Kyaw Zaw Naing clarified.

He also clarified the main task of PSM as to inform the public about the government policy. However, it may be tough changing overnight the old practice. The governing body is to work as a mechanism for change. The governing body is an organization helping the newspapers smoothly transform into a public service newspaper. The governing body does not represent the people but it is the people-oriented organization, Kyaw Zaw Naing, a legal professional, said during the interview with journalists from The New Light of Myanmar.

One of the new five-member Governing Body, Ye Naing Moe told AFP in October that the new governing body will slowly replace the information ministry in overseeing the state press.

“The ministry will gradually step back and we will fill the vacuum in the future. They will even sell some shares, although not all,” he told AFP. “I don’t think we will have 100 per cent independence, but I hope we can have enough to push through this transformation.”