Private daily newspapers launched in Myanmar

Private daily newspapers launched in Myanmar

Daily newspapers, previously under the control of the state, are now being privately published and sold in Myanmar
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Newspaper vendors said that many newly launched private dailys sold out on the first day of sales in Myanmar (AFP)

Media freedom took a major step forward in Myanmar today as privately-owned daily newspapers featured on newsstands for the first time in decades.

Four newspapers, The Voice, The Golden Fresh Land, The Union and The Standard Time changed from weekly to daily publications as the historical shift in the Burmese media took place, ending the state’s monopoly on daily publishing.

"We prepared for about six months to become a daily newspaper. We wanted to be part of this historical milestone," Aung Soe, an editor of The Voice, told AFP.

Newsstands in Yangon reported an early morning rush by readers eager to witness the latest sweeping change in the country also known as Burma.

"The Voice daily sold out soon after it arrived even though I ordered double the amount than other newspapers. People are keen to read private daily newspapers for the first time," said vendor Phyu Phyu.

Press freedoms have been improving in Myanmar as the “winds of change” have been blowing since 2011, and the national censorship board was dissolved in January of this year.  The government made the promise to allow daily newspapers last year, surprising some critics who did not expect the commitment to be met within the given timeframe.

Military rulers had seized control of private daily papers in 1964, according to veteran journalist Thiha Saw of Open News weekly.  Under junta rule, even an implied mention of the democracy movement and its figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi could have landed reporters in prison, but the Nobel laureate is now in parliament and regularly appears in the papers.

A total of 16 weekly journals were allowed to become dailies under the new rules, including Suu Kyi's party paper, but logistical challenges mean some were not able to make the move immediately.

Among the front pages of the new dailies on Monday, the fragrantly titled Golden Fresh Land, which also proved extremely popular, covered an upcoming trip by Suu Kyi to Japan and President Thein Sein's address to the nation about recent Buddhist-Muslim unrest.

The Union, which is close to the ruling party, focused on news from the capital Naypyidaw, while The Voice printed an update on the situation in the western state of Rakhine and a report on a weekend concert in Yangon by Danish band Michael Learns to Rock.

However, outlets have complained that state press possesses an unfair advantage in terms of funding and advertising.

Private journals sell for around 200 kyats (about 20 US cents), while Myanmar's three government-backed newspapers are at least half the price, and many copies are distributed free at hotels and on aeroplanes.

On the streets of Yangon Monday opinion was divided about the prospects for private daily papers.

"We worry that they will not be able to continue in the long term -- people can't afford to buy all of them because the newspapers now come out at the same time," said Kalar Lay.

But fellow newspaper seller Win Myint said the recipe for success was simple: "If the reporting is good, people will buy it and read it."

Source: AFP, DCMF

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