The Buzz

A Free(ish) Press Comes to Burma

Some may say print is dead, but one thing is sure: they haven't been to Burma. In just two short weeks the Burmese press will be free to print daily news for the first time in over fifty years, and local journalists (or largely, the young people who want to become them) are electrified with excitement. While their internet connections are shoddy, the would-be journos have been practicing for months, running off private daily editions of the Myanmar Herald and Rangoon Times in anticipation of the April 1 start date. Shanghai-based Jake Spring's piece for the Atlantic is a great window into this special and changing time in the Southeast Asian country. That said, not all will be smooth sailing. According to Spring:

The crush of new daily newspapers - most in the industry expect up to 25 to launch - must first clear regulatory hurdles. According to local reports, media regulators announced on Saturday that of 17 media companies that have already applied for daily licenses, eight have been approved for publication starting next month, six were denied and three remain under consideration. Despite the rejections, the government has yet to signal that licenses will be used as a gatekeeping mechanism to shut out critical newspapers. Among the rejected was Eleven Media Group, which publishes one of the highest-circulation weeklies. The group reported on its website that the rejection was based on a technicality, the lack of an official revenue stamp and failure to specify what the language of the publication would be. The ministry advised the group to reapply. Media leaders in Rangoon like Ko Ko said in mid-February they were certain the government would approve all completed applications.

TNI's Doug Bandow also rightly pointed that the licenses necessary to proceed with daily printing are controlled by state authorities who could revoke permission "as a tool for censorship." Certainly, the system is not flawless or even close, but it is a large and exciting step forward for Burma. As Chairman Ko Ko of Rangoon Media Group wisely said to Spring, "Today, our big issue is not thinking about making money." Probably a smart choice; that's pretty tough to pull off these days.