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The Impact of Censorship on the Development of the Private Press Industry in Myanmar/ Burma

Kyaw Thu, a journalist from Myanmar/Burma, has written a path-breaking study on how a long history of censorship of the media in his country has affected the nature and quality of the print media and the economic prospects of the industry.

In his research, entitled 'The Impact of Censorship on the Development of the Private Press Industry in Myanmar/Burma', Kyaw draws on unprecedented access to nearly 80 journalists and several publishers to give a remarkable snap-shot of the press in his country.

Kyaw first sets out the history of the press in Myanmar/Burma, reminding the reader of the extraordinary measures the previous military government followed in its use of the Orwellian censorship board known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) in order to pre-censor a whole range of sensitive issues.  The PSRD procedure requires all the weekly newspapers to submit two-thirds of the draft copy to the board two to three days in advance.  Little wonder then that Reporters Without Borders in 2010 put Myanmar at 174 out of 178 countries in its annual Press Freedom Index.

Based on questionnaires and interviews, Kyaw shows the devastating impact that censorship has had on the quality of journalism in his country and on the profitability of the newspaper industry.  Editors said that about 30-40 per cent of stories were rejected by the censorship board every week.  A majority of the journalists said the censorship policy not only blocked the flow of information to the public, but also destroyed the impartiality of the news and articles.

But there are grounds for optimism.  Since the civilian government led by President U Thein Sein came to power in March 2011, the censorship board has been relaxing its policies. Publishers and media executives said the circulation of news-focused journals jumped by 30% to 50% as a consequence of the relaxing of censorship and the permission to publish pictures of Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her activities.

But Kyaw is cautious about the future. He writes,

Due to the flow of new investment in the media sector soon after the civilian government was sworn in, we can already see fierce competition between old and new media companies to control the market within the next few years. As in the former communist countries in Eastern Europe, liberalization of the media market could favour wealthy individuals or groups controlling the media market in Myanmar in the future.