TELEVISION IN MYANMAR
When he gave an address in 2013, Myanmar President Thein Sein said he chose to deliver his remarks by radio because most of Myanmar’s impoverished citizens do not have television. The BBC, VOA and two other foreign news organisations provide local-language news bulletins on shortwave radio frequencies and satellite television that are primary news sources for many people in Myanmar.
The Myanmar government controls all domestic broadcast media; 2 state-controlled TV stations with 1 of the stations controlled by the armed forces; 2 pay-TV stations are joint state-private ventures; access to satellite TV is limited; 1 state-controlled domestic radio station and 9 FM stations that are joint state-private ventures; transmissions of several international broadcasters are available in parts of Burma; the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), BBC Burmese service, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and Radio Australia use shortwave to broadcast in Burma; VOA, RFA, and DVB produce daily TV news programs that are transmitted by satellite to audiences in Burma [Source: CIA World Factbook]
Describing Myanmar in 2005, Richard Paddock wrote in Los Angeles Times, “Access to Internet sites is limited and e-mail is delayed so government minders have time to read it. There are few cellphones, and foreign publications are censored. Some people get around it, including Internet users who have become expert at accessing restricted websites. Others listen to the BBC and Voice of America on radio despite the ban. Illegal satellite dishes have sprouted from rooftops, allowing millions to watch overseas broadcasts.” [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005 ]
Fixtures of Burmese state newspapers were rants on the foreign media. In August 2011, Reuters reported: “State-run daily newspapers in Myanmar dropped back-page banners attacking western media. In what is taken to be a further indication of a government softening of its stance, the three official papers dropped half-page slogans that accuse the BBC and the Voice of America (VOA) of "sowing hatred among the people". The slogans had been a fixture in state newspapers since a bloody army crackdown on monk-led protests in August 2007. [Source: Reuters, August 18, 2011]
See Separate Article MEDIA, CENSORSHIP AND PROPAGANDA IN MYANMAR
Satellite Television in Myanma
Even though satellite dishes are expensive and require government permission to own, more and more people have hidden, illegal dishes. Satellite dishes are strictly regulated in Myanmar and Vietnam but not in Laos. In the 1990s they were owned mostly by the elite. For a while they could pick up the BBC but not CNN.
Reuters reported: According to official data, there were 60,000 registered satellite receivers in 2002, although a glance at the dishes on the roofs of Yangon apartment blocks suggests the real figure is much higher. Many people have satellite dishes for watching European soccer or Chinese soap operas as well as outside news.
Most middle class homes and shops use satellite dishes to tune into foreign sports events, soap operas, and to circumvent the junta’s tightly controlled state media. The dishes are commonplace in big cities, like the commercial capital of Yangon. The government occasionally launches crackdowns on the dishes by forcing users to pack them away in boxes until the threat has passes.
The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma started daily satellite television broadcasts in January 2008. The network has played a role in providing information to people in Myanmar and getting news from Myanmar to the outside world.
Television in Myanmar
In Myanmar there are two state-controlled TV stations with one of the stations controlled by the armed forces. Two pay-TV stations are joint state-private ventures. Access to satellite TV is limited. The Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and the Democratic Voice of Burma produce daily TV news programs that are transmitted by satellite to audiences in Burma [Source: CIA World Factbook]
The only television news broadcasts in the country are on the rigidly state-controlled MRTV. The few private television stations in Myanmar avoid all coverage of current affairs in favor of a diet of soap operas, Korean dramas and pop music.
There are two local TV channels: TV Myanmar and Myawaddy with programs running from 7:00 am to 4:00 am; and from 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Most hotels also have satellite TV. Myawaddy was started in March, 1995. The average broadcasting hours is about 8 hours per day when it started. But now it is longer. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
English programs are telecast for viewers in Myanmar on MRTV 3 from 9:00am to 10:00am The transmission hours for viewers from abroad are from 13:00am to 14:00am. 18:00pm to 19:00pm. and from 2:00am to 4:00am It is an English channel for oversea audience. It can be received from 126 countries and is transmitted from Thaicom-3 C Band Global beam. In addition. the Ministry have also broadcast the MRTV3 programs pm the Internet using web based video streaming system via the gateway of Myanma Posts and Telecommunications. It can be accessed on Internet through http://www.mrtv3.net.mm web site. ~
MRTV 4 was launched in May 2004. It is streaming video via satellite. MRTV 4 contains non-formal education programs and other entertainment programs. But for receiving. it can be matched by MMBox (Myanmar Media Box). This transmission contains educational programs from Ministries. Myanmar movies. English movies with Myanmar subtitles. cartoon programs and other entertainment programs. The transmission time is from 7:00am to 11:00pm daily. For more quality and convenience. MRTV 4 will soon be broadcasting with Digital Video Broadcasting Technology (DVBT) terrestrial system. ~
Myanmar Junta Threatened by Satellite TV
In May 2009, Associated Press reported: “Satellite dishes that allow people to get international news and entertainment programs should be banned in Myanmar because foreign powers are using them to sow unrest and spread immorality, a state-run newspaper said. Writing in the Myanma Ahlin newspaper, a writer who identified himself as Ko Gyi said foreign countries were flooding the country with entertainment programs that citizens are enjoying without realizing they have a darker purpose — to destabilize the country and spread immoral behavior. [Source: AP, May 2, 2009 <>]
“Some big nations are using satellite dishes as their own media tools to influence other countries under the pretext of entertainment,” Ko Gyi wrote. “They are using them to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, to instigate unrest, and to destroy nationalism in some targeted nations. It is high time to prohibit the sale of satellite dishes.” The article did not single out any one country nor any specific programs. <>
the Myanmar government was angry about the images broadcast into Myanmar of troops beating Buddhist monks during anti-government street demonstrations that were sparked by a spike in fuel prices in 2007. The broadcasts were made by groups including the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based shortwave radio station and Web site that is run by exiled Myanmar dissidents. After the suppression the protests the ruling junta has sustained a relentless assault on the BBC, the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, accusing them of broadcasting a "skyful of lies."
Myanmar Junta Increases Satellite TV Levy by 16,600 Percent
In 2008 authorities dramatically raised the annual fee for the dishes in an apparent move to limit access to foreign news channels. The license fee increased from 6,000 kyat ($6) to 1 million kyat ($1,000) — an unaffordable sum to most people in Myanmar. It is equivalent to about three times the annual salary of a public school teacher. As a result, many have chosen to operate their dishes illegally.
Reuters reported: “Without warning, Myanmar's military junta has ordered a 166-fold increase in the annual satellite TV levy in an apparent attempt to stop people from watching dissident and international news broadcasts. With no word in the state-controlled media of any license fee increases, the first that satellite dish owners knew of the change was when they went to pay the levy of 6,000 kyat, only to be told it was now 1 million kyat.[Source: Reuters, January 3, 2008 ><]
An official at Myanma Post and Telecom confirmed the increase but was at a loss to explain it. "It's not our decision," said the official, who asked not to be named. "We were just ordered by the higher authorities. Even I was shocked when I heard about it." Foreign media played a major role in the protests in August and September 2007. Some Yangon residents saw the license fee increase as an extension of that campaign. "I just can't help thinking that they want to close the eyes and ears of the people," said Ba Myint, a retired government official. ><
Television Programs in Myanmar
Most of the programming on the state-run television stations is government propaganda and news dominated by clips of government leaders and generals touring factories and watching ethnic groups perform traditional dances. The few private television stations in Myanmar avoid all coverage of current affairs in favor of a diet of soap operas, Korean dramas and pop music.
Because the programming om state-run television is so boring result commercials have become a major source of entertainment Commercials can last 30 minutes and resemble soap operas or music videos. In the 1990s a top girl commercial star was paid about $2000 for one commercial and businesses that hired her had large increases of business.
In the 1990s, youths Myanmar liked to flash the victory sign, a reference to the Hong-Kong-based "V" music channel. Other fixtures of Myanmar television include action movies, Indian Bollywood movies and Chinese dramas.
Radio in Myanmar
In Myanmar there is one state-controlled domestic radio station and 9 FM stations that are joint state-private ventures. Transmissions of several international broadcasters are available in parts of Burma. The Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), BBC Burmese service, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and Radio Australia use shortwave to broadcast in Burma. [Source: CIA World Factbook]
Even the risk being imprisoned for doing so, many Burmese listen to the BBC, Radio Free Asia and broadcast by broadcasts by Norway-based exile groups. One teacher told Newsweek “I is the only information from the outside world that we can get.”
The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma runs a secular radio station that beams the news to Myanmar using short waves. Radio Free Asia does a Burmese language .
Radio Myanmar broadcasts English on the following schedule: 8:30 am to 9:00am 1:30 pm to 2:00 pm; and 9:00 pm to 10:30 pm. The new City FM broadcasts from 08:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.. and from 13:00 P.M. to 17:00 P.M. daily. starting from January 1. 2002. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
Aung San Suu Kyi and Radio in Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi said that while she was under house arrest, “ I spent five or six hours listening to the radio every day. If you're under house arrest and you miss one item, there's no one there to tell you about it, so I listened very carefully." Suu Kyi was under house arrest when she won the Nobel prize and she learned about the award from a BBC broadcast.
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “During her imprisonment, Aung San Suu Kyi developed an unvarying schedule. Waking before dawn, she would meditate, then spend the rest of the morning doing household chores while listening to the BBC and other stations on shortwave radio. “I was listening five to six hours a day. I was more in touch with the news than were many people outside,” she said. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]
Aung San Suu Kyi told Scott Kraft of the Los Angeles Times that while under house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi usually got up at around 4:30am and exercised and listened to the Voice of America as well as the BBC on her short wave radio. During her detention she became fond of listening to the Grateful Dead and Bob Marley and enjoyed tuning into the Good Show , a BBC radio show cancelled in 2001 hosted by the disc jockey Dave Lee Travis, once known as “the hairy Cornflake.” She usually went to bed around 9:30pm.
Newspapers in Myanmar
Newspapers—called “journals” in Myanmar—are plentiful but most of them focus on business, lifestyle, entertainment and sports rather than politics. The state-owned government mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar, is Myanmar’s only English language newspaper. Once nicknamed the New Lies of Myanmar, it has traditionally neen heavy on government propaganda and articles such as "Lost air conditioner found in paddy field" and "Religious Affairs minister deals with religious matters." In recent years the government has introduced advertising and color production and has tried to shake up coverage
As of the mid 2000s there were three morning newspapers Myanmar Ah Lin and Kye mon in Myanmar and The New Light of Myanmar in English are published in Yangon and The Yadanabon News in Myanmar is published in Mandalay. Myanmar Times Journal (English Version) is distributed every Monday. and the Myanmar Version is distributed ever Friday. Both journals are published in Yangon. The locally published magazines in English; Golden Myanmar. Myanmar Chronicle. and Myanmar Perspective. are available in bookshops. Foreign newspapers such International Herald Tribune. as Singapore Straits Times. and some foreign magazines and periodicals are available at In-wa (Ava) Bookshop. No.232. Sule Pagoda Road. There are also a huge variety of magazines. ranging from monthly to biannuals. although their market is smaller compared to the "journals".[Source: Myanmar Travel Information ]
In the 1990s, pulp magazines and fanzines about Madonna, Billy Idol, Michael Jackson and other rock stars were very popular in Burma. By 2013, there were some independent magazines and newspapers. Some ran print translations of foreign articles and tried to find ways to criticize the government. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2013==]
According to the Los Angeles Times: About 70 percent of the country's print media is based in Yangon, much of it controlled by ex-military officials or their relatives, leaving little coverage in rural areas, where most Burmese live. "Most journals are owned by tycoons and cronies, so I don't have much faith in them," said Ko Aung Soe, a farmer in Kankone, outside Mandalay. "I believe in true media, but there's none around."
Privately Owned Daily Newspapers Return to Myanmar
In August 2013, Aye Aye Win of AP wrote: In Myanmar, privately run daily newspapers hit newsstands for the first time in 50 years. For many people, the rebirth of daily papers is a novelty: Many weren't even born when the late dictator Ne Win imposed a state monopoly on the daily press in the 1960s. But for 81-year-old Khin Maung Lay, it's like a second lease on life. He is chief editor of Golden Fresh Land, one of four dailies that went on sale Monday as Myanmar takes another step in its march toward democracy. "We've been waiting half a century for this day," said the veteran editor, adding that 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." [Source: Aye Aye Win, AP, April 1, 2013]
Khin Maung Lay worked as a senior newsman at the Burmese language Mogyo daily before it was driven out of business by government pressure in 1964. Now as chief editor of Golden Fresh Land — the name sounds less awkward in the original Burmese — he heads a team of young journalists he recruited from various weeklies, journalists who have only the briefest of acquaintances with the concept of a free press, having grown up under the military government that ruled for five decades. They are up against some media behemoths and papers belonging to the country's top political parties.
The ruling USDP party launched a daily called The Union, and the well-established weekly The Voice is converting itself into the Voice Daily. The other newcomer is The Standard Time Daily. All four newspapers are in Burmese, ranging in price from 150 kyat-200 kyat (US20 cents- 25 cents). Khin Maung Lay acknowledges there are innumerable challenges ahead, but said he is ready to face them "in the name of freedom of press." He's well acquainted with the cutting edge of the concept — he went to jail three times under Ne Win, including a three-year stretch in "protective custody," a catch-all phrase the military regime used when imprisoning critics.
One of the main hurdles will be beating the competition. "It won't be easy for all the newspapers to survive. As a reader, I can't afford to buy every newspaper, every day," said taxi driver Tun Win, 52, who normally kept up with current affairs by buying three news weeklies. Nonetheless, he called the arrival of daily papers a big step for the impoverished country. "Now we can get information every day, rather than once a week," he said. "It's the best way to get up-to-date news for those who don't have access to the Internet."
The newspaper renaissance is part of the reform efforts of President Thein Sein, who, after serving as prime minister in the previous military regime, took office in March 2011 as head of an elected civilian government. Political and economic liberalization were at the top of his agenda, in an effort to boost national development. As part of an easing of media restrictions, The Associated Press became the first international news agency to open a bureau in Myanmar since the new government took power two years ago. Six multi-format journalists will staff the new AP bureau full-time.
It's not smooth sailing yet. The draconian 1962 Printing and Registration Act remains in place until a new media law is enacted. It carries a maximum seven-year prison term for failure to register and allows the government to revoke publishing licenses at any time.
The government announced in December that any Myanmar national wishing to publish a daily newspaper was welcome to apply and could begin publishing on April 1. There were nearly two dozen applications, and Golden Fresh Land was one of 16 to win approval. Others include dailies to be put out by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and Thein Sein's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The Voice Daily made its debut Monday, issued by the same group that has published a popular weekly since 2004. Most coverage of local and national news in the state press is little more than the equivalent of government press releases, typically reporting on less-than-riveting topics such as the names of all the officials who attended the inauguration of a new bridge. Opinion pieces invariably reflect conservative positions that seem decades behind the times.
Aware of its vulnerability, the English-language state paper, the New Light of Myanmar, is seeking a joint venture partner to help with a makeover. The entry of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party plans to make use of its strong financial base. The pro-military party, which holds a strong majority in parliament, is backed by many tycoons. Chief editor Win Tin said the paper will be distributed free of charge for the first 10 days."We are financially strong and we have many experienced people," he said, adding that the party will have its own separate propaganda sheet and that the newspaper will not be a mouthpiece for it. Strong competition will come from savvy big media groups who say they will launch later.
Myanmar State Media to Become 'Public Service' Press
In October 2012, Myanmar's state newspapers, long mouthpieces of military regime, said they would become "public service media". AFP reported: “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 new committee will "adopt necessary policies and programmes, draw necessary ethics and principles... to transform (the newspapers) to public service media", said the New Light of Myanmar. [Source: AFP, October 20, 2012]
Myanmar's state press has shown scant signs of modernising -- 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 told AFP last month, adding that the newspapers would be allowed to criticise 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. "The ministry will gradually step back and we will fill the vacuum in the future. They will even sell some shares, although not all," he told AFP. "I don't think we will have 100 percent independence, but I hope we can have enough to push through this transformation."
Rohingya Violence, Social Media and Freedom to Hate in Myanmar
Hanna Hindstrom wrote in Foreign Policy, “The brutal religious violence in Burma's western Arakan state has cast a shadow on the country's democratic progress....Even more shocking than the violence itself has been the public outpour of vitriol aimed at the Rohingya....Anti-Rohingya views have swept both social and mainstream media, seemingly uniting politicians, human rights activists, journalists, and civil society from across Burma's myriad ethnic groups. "The so-called Rohingya are liars," tweeted one pro-democracy group. "We must kill all the kalar," said another social media user. (Kalar is a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people from the Indian subcontinent.) Burmese refugees, who themselves have fled persecution, gathered at embassies across the world to protest the "terrorist" Rohingya invading their homeland. Even the prominent student leader Ko Ko Gyi, who played a key role in the 1988 democratic uprising, lambasted them as imposters and frauds. [Source: Hanna Hindstrom, Foreign Policy, June 14, 2012 <<]
“No doubt Burma's nascent media freedom has played a key role in stirring religious tensions. Vast swathes of inflammatory misinformation are circulating inside Burma -- with mainstream media largely accusing Al Qaeda and "illegal Bengali terrorists" for staging the violence in a bid to spread Islam in Asia. Many allege that the Rohingya are burning their own houses in a bid for attention. One paper published a graphic photo of the corpse of Thida Htwe, the Buddhist woman whose rape and murder allegedly by three Muslim men instigated the violence, prompting President Thein Sein to suspend the publication under Burma's censorship laws. These are the same papers that in recent months have openly criticized the government for the first time since a nominally civilian administration took over last year. <<
“Ironically, this freedom has also led to a virulent backlash against foreign and exile media, who have reported on the plight of the Rohingya -- described by the U.N. as one of the most persecuted groups in the world. A leading national paper, The Weekly Eleven News Journal, has launched a campaign against exile media for their coverage of the crisis. "Foreign media are now presenting bias [sic] reports on the clashes between Rakhine people and Bengali Rohingyas to destroy the image of Myanmar [Burma's official name -- ed.] and its people," warned Eleven Media Group in a statement. "Only Rohingyas killed Rakhine people and burned down their houses." Earlier this week they denounced New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller for citing hateful comments made against Rohingyas on their website. <<
“While anti-Rohingya sentiments are not new to Burma, the attacks have taken on a more urgent and egregious nature with greater access to information. In November last year, a social media campaign whipped up a tirade of animosity against the BBC for a report (published one year earlier) that had identified the Rohingya as residents of Arakan state. In the wake of the latest violence, a number of online campaigns have been set up to coordinate attacks against news outlets that dare to report on their plight. Angry protesters rallied in Rangoon this week, brandishing signs reading "Bengali Broadcast Corporation" and "Desperate Voice of Bengali." The latter was a reference to my employer, the Democratic Voice of Burma, the Norway-based broadcaster that has made a name for itself among many Burmese as one of the most reliable sources of information about their country. This weekend DVB faced the biggest cyber-attack on its website in the organization's history, while its Facebook page is still under constant assault from people issuing threats and posting racist material. It is not without irony that an organization once hailed as a vehicle for free speech has become the target of censorship by the very people it sought to give a voice. <<
“As International Crisis Group explains, the violence is both a consequence of, and threat to, Burma's political transition. However, what they wrongly assume is that the "irresponsible, racist, and inflammatory language" circulating on the internet is likely to be resolved through discussion in the national media. The few balanced voices -- let alone those representing the stateless minority -- are vastly outnumbered by news outlets spouting simplistic, anti-Muslim rhetoric. The ongoing crisis illustrates the need for Burma to embrace not only independent, but also responsible and inclusive journalism. In order to facilitate this transition, the government must take concrete steps to address the underlying dispute surrounding the Rohingya. The sheer level of racism against them in Burmese society -- enforced by a government policy of discrimination and abuse -- lies at the core of the matter. <<
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014