Myanmar’s state newspapers, long mouthpieces of the country’s former junta and army hardliners, signaled a historic change in focus yesterday, announcing a plan to transform into “public service media”.
Three state-owned dailies — the English language New Light of Myanmar, its Burmese edition Myanma Alin and Kyemon (The Mirror) — are set for a revamp, with a new governing body, the newspapers reported.
The new committee will “adopt necessary policies and programs, draw necessary ethics and principles… to transform (the newspapers) to public service media”, said the New Light of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s state press has shown scant signs of modernizing — except for an increase in celebrity gossip — since the country began its reforms under a quasi-civilian regime last year.
But the information ministry recently indicated a willingness to ease its grip on the government mouthpieces as changes bring new freedoms to the country’s private media, which was long muted by some of the world’s most draconian censorship.
“In the past, state-owned media only represented the views of the government and the parliament. It was one-sided,” deputy information minister Ye Htut said, adding that the newspapers would be allowed to criticize government policy.
The new governing body will slowly replace the information ministry in overseeing the state press, according to Ye Naing Moe, a freelance media trainer and one of the new committee’s members.
He said the state newspapers used to be “very far from public service”, adding that now the priority would be to “amplify the voices of the voiceless people and minorities”.
In August, the former pariah state announced the end of pre-publication censorship, previously applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales. There is also a plan to allow private journals to publish daily from next year.
Since taking office last year, President Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic moves in Myanmar such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to parliament.