Privately-owned daily newspapers will hit the streets of Burma from April 1, the government announced Friday as the country takes another step towards democracy after decades of harsh military rule.
At present, all dailies are state-owned.
The Information Ministry said on its website that applications to publish a daily newspaper can be submitted from February and the new papers will be allowed to begin printing April 1 in any language.
The move will coincide with the second anniversary of reform-minded President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian administration, established in March last year after landmark November 2010 elections.
Since assuming power, Thein Sein has released a large numbers of political prisoners, eased restrictions on assembly and the press, and began attempts to hold dialogue with armed ethnic minority groups as part of wide ranging reforms.
The changes have been welcomed by the international community, which has eased long-running economic sanctions on the country.
The government says it expects a dozen applications to publish daily newspapers in various languages.
“This is the beginning of another step towards democracy,” Wei Phyo, the chief editor of Eleven Media, which is planning to publish a private newspaper, told RFA Burmese Service.
“We will now follow the standard of democracy practiced in several other countries that have private newspapers,” he said.
Private dailies were forced to close when the military seized power in 1962. At that time, independent dailies in the former British colony were published in Burmese, English, Indian and Chinese languages.
Veteran journalist Win Tin, while welcoming the government move, hoped the authorities would provide an environment for private newspapers to flourish.
“The reporters and journalists must be allowed to cover any news, including corruption. They should also have the freedom to gather facts and report the truth and express their own opinion and criticism,” he told RFA.
Win Tin also warned journalists of the challenges that would come under the new environment, citing particularly professional and financial challenges in an era of rapidly evolving information technology.
“Operating a newspaper is a huge job and would cost a lot, especially as IT changes rapidly and makes gathering, covering, presenting and delivering news very challenging. The main concern for publishing private newspapers is finance. ”
A senior Information Ministry official told Reuters news agency that the decision announced Friday is part of the third and final stage of media reforms in the country.
Media controls were first relaxed in June last year, when the Information Ministry exempted about half of the country’s privately run weekly journals and monthly magazines from pre-publication censorship.
In August, the government ended all direct media censorship.
Reported by Nyein Nyein Pyae and Nay Rain Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.