Burmese authorities have granted approval for 16 daily newspapers, including one run by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, to start publishing next week as part of media reforms allowing private dailies to operate in the country for the first time in decades.
The government's Central Supervisory Committee for Registration and Distribution of Printers and Publishers on Monday issued permits to eight groups to establish daily publications, in addition to eight organizations that received the green light on March 1, state media reported Tuesday.
The 16 groups, many of which already run weekly journals, will be allowed to publish every day from April 1, ending a monopoly on daily news by state-owned newspapers.
The move to allow private dailies, announced in December, comes amid a series of media reforms that would have been unthinkable during the five decades of absolute military rule that ended in March 2011.
Amid the easing restrictions, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which was banned under the former military junta, is working on plans start its own newspaper.
The party, which currently runs the D-wave journal focusing on NLD activities, was on Monday granted a license to establish a daily publication with the same name.
“The D-Wave journal since 2010 will continue running as a weekly political journal as before. The D-Wave newspaper will be published daily in a newspaper format,” Moe Thu, a writer for the journal, told RFA’s Burmese Service.
A new market
As the newly issued licenses open up a new market for private newspapers, the publications are preparing for fierce competition.
Ko Ko, chairman of the Yangon Media Group that was granted approval on Monday to turn its Yangon Times journal into a daily newspaper, said he expects dozens of other media groups to apply for newspaper licenses.
“It is a competitive business. Sixteen papers are now approved to publish [daily], and I estimate there will be at least 30 to 40 daily newspapers granted approval in the near future,” he said.
“We will have to share the market.”
The newspapers also face growing competition from online media, as more Burmese get their news from social media sites, he said.
“People will be reading news on their phones and the mobile media and this could make things difficult for print media, so in the daily paper business we must manage things very carefully.”
Although the licenses allow the newspapers to start printing on April 1—a date coinciding with the official start of Burma’s nominally civilian government two years ago—some will not be ready to publish daily issues straight away.
Ko Ko said the Yangon Times is aiming for June 1, working in the meantime to prepare for the shift from a biweekly to a daily publication.
“We need to build up our capacity,” including staff strength and an editorial policy, he said, adding that the group has been working on giving its reporters training.
The move to launch daily newspapers comes amid planned revisions to the country’s media law stalled in parliament.
Lawmakers postponed debate on controversial provisions earlier this month following sharp criticism.
The Ministry of Information submitted a draft publishing bill to parliament on March 7, and it was scheduled to be discussed during a session that adjourned last week.
But following sharp criticism from journalists associations and some parliamentarians who warned that it would curtail press freedom if turned into law, the bill was taken off the agenda, postponing debate until parliament reconvenes in June.
The bill would bar reporting on topics such as criticism of the military-drafted 2008 constitution and publication of news that could "disturb the rule of law," "incite unrest," or "violate the constitution and other existing laws."
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Win Naing for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.