Private daily papers return to Burma after 50-year absence

Move marks the end of censorship initiated by late dictator Ne Win in the 1960s

A woman buys a newspaper in Rangoon, Burma, yesterday. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

A woman buys a newspaper in Rangoon, Burma, yesterday. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 08:06

Newspapers may be suffering elsewhere, but in Burma private dailies have hit newsstands for the first time in nearly half a century after 16 dailies were given licences by authorities.

However, just four newspapers were published as many of the other titles were still struggling to find financing, track down journalists and source the equipment needed to bring out a newspaper.

In the days after Burma won independence from Britain in 1948, there was a busy daily press in Burmese, English, Indian and Chinese, but for more than 50 years the censor has ruled supreme.

Power handover
Burma’s military junta, which renamed the country Myanmar in 1989, handed over power in early 2011 in limited elections, and since then has embarked on a programme of reforms that has included freeing political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and, since August last year, allowing media reform, with the ending of censorship.

The late dictator Ne Win imposed a state monopoly on the daily press in the 1960s.

The four Burmese-language newspapers included the government-linked Union Daily , which was made available without charge, the Voice Daily , Golden Fresh Land and the Standard Time Daily .

“We’ve been waiting half a century for this day,” Khin Maung Lay, the 81-year-old editor of Golden Fresh Land , told Reuters, saying the paper’s initial print run of 80,000 copies was sold out by late morning. “It shows how much people long for private daily newspapers. This morning, I was in tears seeing this.”

Preparations are ongoing for the publication of D-Wave Weekly , which is the paper of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy.

“Frankly it’s quite early to say for sure when ours will come out. We are still making necessary preparations to publish the daily,” Han Tha Myint, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, which publishes D-Wave Weekly .

State propaganda paper
The ministry of information has put on a tender to local and foreign investors to establish a joint venture to publish the New Light of Myanmar , formerly a state propaganda newspaper and the only English-language daily in the country.

There are still question marks over how the government will treat newspapers that are published with foreign backing, and some publishers are taking a wait-and-see stance.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranks Burma 151st out of 179 countries in its press freedom index, up 18 places on the previous year. However, now attention turns to a new media law being drafted by an interim press council aimed at defining the limits of press freedoms.

RSF has warned the bill could threaten the “fragile” progress Burma has made since 2011, because of provisions that make it illegal to publish material that attacks religion, disturbs rule of law or threatens national reconciliation.

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