Despite the oft-praised Cinderella story of Burmese democratization, a range of persistent challenges faces independent media in the country. Access to information and the role of parliament in Burma featured prominently in the presentations at an event hosted by Internews on February 26, but the absence of an enabling business environment was a central focus of the conversation.
“The Business of Media and Information Environments in the New Myanmar: Fresh Perspectives” featured Dr. Christina Fink, professor of practice at George Washington University; Michelle J. Foster, media management and marketing consultant; and Alison Campbell, humanitarian partnerships manager at Internews.
Based on her research for a 2013 Internews report, The Business of Media in Myanmar and the subsequent report, The Business of News Media: Changing Shape, Foster described a media sector still blighted by government collusion and economic barriers for independent outlets. For instance, advertising dollars, the lifeblood of independent media, have struggled to keep pace with the rapid expanse of the media sector in Burma.
In 2012, advertising revenue in the country totaled around $118 million, an equivalent of $2 per capita, one of the lowest rates in the world. For independent media, the still meager pool of advertising dollars is further limited because nearly 75 percent of advertising revenue goes to the state. The state media, as well as outlets closely associated with former generals and ruling officials, are thus able to price independent outlets out of the market. In 2012, independent outlets reported that they were hemorrhaging $60,000-90,000 a month, and today they are still losing about $1,000-3,000 a day.
The development of a vibrant and diverse media sector in Burma is still very much a work in progress. An enabling business environment–with the support of just laws and fewer institutional disadvantages–is crucial for independent media outlets to compete and thrive..
For more information on the state of independent media in Burma, please check out the exciting work that Internews is doing in the country: