Living Colour September 2005

Burmese journal views prospects, situation of privately owned publications

A Burmese magazine has noted that positive changes and developments can been seen in the media, with privately owned journals being given permission to attend national conferences and licences to publish being issued. It notes weaknesses within the journalistic sector, including the lack of qualifications of journalists. However, it also notes strengths, including allowing journalists to use email and the Internet freely. The following is the text of an article by Zaw Htut Maung from the "Myanmar's Economic View" section entitled: "Future prospects for the development of privately owned news journal sector", published by Burmese business magazine Living Colour on 1 September; subheadings as published

Judging from the comments Minister for Information Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan made at the first meeting of the Central Supervisory Committee for Publishers Registration and Scrutinization that privately owned weekly news journals published legally in Myanmar [Burma] will be given permission to attend national press conferences like foreign correspondents, and that policies are to be laid down so that licences can be issued to publishers who genuinely wish to publish, it must generally be assumed that we are seeing positive changes and developments.

The news journal sector, which had been operating without regard for economic benefit but only with national interests and as a result of interest in journalism, began to pick up around 1995-96 because of weekly news journals, which also revived consideration for economic benefit as well. Since economic interests become points of consideration, many weaknesses as well as strengths emerged in the news journal sector.

It needs to be given deep emphasis that for Myanmar to join the data expressway of the world today, where news is flowing with great momentum from place to place, it will be necessary to urgently fulfil and reform the needs and weaknesses of the news journal sector of Myanmar.

The weaknesses of the news journals

News journals which came to life again around 1995-96 were able to partly fulfil the desire of the readers then, and as a result, they not only became successful but also economically very profitable. Gradually, since then, publishing of news journals has become a sound business venture and many publications emerged. Accordingly, editors and journalists who work for those journals also appeared on the scene.

The fact is since those editors and journalists came into being as a result of need and time, there is still a lot of weaknesses in their views and experiences with regard to journalism. The majority of those journalists are young people, hence, if they are properly nurtured they can be transformed into qualified Myanmar journalists.

In addition to the basics of journalism, young journalists also need to concentrate on learning about modern "Three R's", such as the English language, IT [information technology], and the Internet. These are the know-how necessary for young Myanmar journalists to join the age of globalization and the data expressway.

A young Myanmar journalist who, together with other international journalists, attended the three-month International Workshop in Advanced Journalism at the Royal University in Cambodia's Phnom Penh several years back, said the English language, IT, and the Internet are the main weaknesses of young Myanmar people, but that those weaknesses are not because they lack the capacity to learn but because of various socioeconomic conditions. Whatever the reasons may be, it is vital that young Myanmar learn the modern "Three R's", he added.

"They are young people... [ellipsis as published] and they have the desire to do the work. The problem is that some of the people who are supervising them do not have the capability to improve the capacity of these young people. Some of them do not even know that they need to; some do, but they fear the costs and are also afraid that the young people would bypass them", said a veteran journalist who made a general comment about the situation.

News journal publishing, which has assumed the form of a business venture, was once only undertaken by a group of people who had deep interest in journalism. Later, self-interested business people who knew nothing about journalism and gave little consideration about journalists came into the trade. Likewise, some people who knew about journalism but were only businessmen disguised as journalists also came into the trade exploiting journalism, disrespecting other journalists, violating the code of journalistic ethics, and working only for self-interests.

It is vital for the new generation of young journalists to study not only the basics of journalism, English language, IT, and the Internet but also to understand the code of journalistic ethics, procedural rules, and general knowledge about journalism. Since journalism is vast in scope, it will not be possible to learn everything about it within a short period. The new generation of young journalists will, therefore, need to learn about it while working.

"Most of the news journals being published today carry editorials. Editorials reflect the objective and position of a publication. It should not be written lightly. In our time, we had to hire an editor just to write the editorial. It was that important. If one wishes to carry an editorial in one's journal, one should ask someone who knows how to write it. If doing that is not possible, an editorial should not be included because it affects the prestige of the newspaper and its journalists," said a veteran journalist.

Furthermore, the veteran politician stated that some journals carried satires, which he said should not be written lightly also. Journalists need to observe what was needed for the people and write satires in their interests. The satires being carried in the news journals these days are only promoting one's self-interests by making fun of other people's interests. These satirists either do not know the basics of journalism or are not real journalists.

There is also one big drawback in the present newspaper sector today, and that is, the spelling and grammar mistakes, and dropped or omitted words. The reason for the mistakes is because of the lack of a qualified proof editor and the fault mainly lies with the news typists. Although it is not an unforgivable mistake, it is nevertheless a weakness that needs to be corrected.

Another mistake in the Myanmar news journal sector is the misuse of photographs. Using photographs which have nothing to do with the news, or photographs which relate to the news but incorrectly used, using photographs without modification when they should be (for example, masking the eyes to hide the identity of individuals whose identity should not be made public), making use of photographs obtained from the Internet without the permission of the photographer, and so forth. These mistakes are being made because of the lack of journalistic qualification by the journalists. Efforts must be made to correct these weaknesses so that Myanmar news journals will be on par with international standards.

Strengths of the news journals

While there are weaknesses among the Myanmar news journals which have started to assume the form of business ventures, there are also many strong points. It must be emphasized here that the new generation of young Myanmar journalists must strive to maintain and develop these strong points.

The resultant strength derived from the entrepreneurs joining the news journal business and transforming it into an economic venture is the emergence of powerful media companies. Staff members, including editors and reporters, enjoy greater benefits because bigger investments are involved. Some media companies invest in human resources development by giving wages to editors and reporters even before the publications begin and also provide them with training on basic journalism and modern "Three R's" - English language, IT, and the Internet.

Since the revival of the news journals in Myanmar around 1995-96 and until now, privately owned news journals (with the exception of Myanmar Times) have not been able to have branch offices in Upper Myanmar. However, we are witnessing efforts to open them now.

What is very satisfying to know is that some publishing houses are now allowing the new generation of young journalists to freely use e-mail and the Internet at any time. Thanks to this, the knowledge and experience of young journalists are improving for the better and they are also able to keep themselves abreast of international affairs.

In this connection, a new generation young editor from a good name news journal explained about the usefulness of the Internet: "I did not get the opportunity to use e-mail and Internet in my former publishing house. I only get the chance to freely use them now, and the benefits are enormous. Now is the globalization age and everything is connected. For instance, if there is news about world bean prices rising, bean prices are bound to change locally as well. I can get a news piece out of that. If I wish to, I can check the bean prices in India on the Internet and write about it in my news piece."

In addition, some foreign embassies and several United Nations agencies are conducting basic journalism training which open up good opportunities for the new generation of young journalists.

Future prospects for news journals

New news journals are about to emerge in the next several months and the reading public will be able to choose what they like. This is a time that positive changes and developments are being witnessed and this is also a time when the readers will be judging the quality of the news journals.

Although the number of news journals being published and about to be published today is negligible when compared to the population in Myanmar, news journal readers are only bound to choose the trustworthy ones for their regular reading. And only news journals of acceptable quality will be recorded in the good books of the readers. Hence, news journals will need to be of sound quality and capacity because those without are bound to be rejected by readers.

Source: Living Colour, Rangoon, in Burmese 1 Sep 05 pp 84-87