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Myanmar state newspaper rebrands after part-privatisation

October 1, 2014

Myanmar’s state newspaper, which for years railed against the international media as a mouthpiece of the former junta, relaunched Wednesday as the “Global New Light of Myanmar” to mark its rebirth as a part-private publication.

Complete with a new multicoloured masthead, the English-language daily celebrated its new incarnation with a poem pledging that the paper would “always serve the interests of (the) nation and its people.”

Myanmar has sought to shed its image as an enemy of a free press by scrapping draconian censorship and allowing private daily newspapers as it implements dramatic political reforms since the end of outright military rule nearly three years ago.

But old habits die hard: Wednesday’s edition carried a notice on the front page from the information ministry announcing plans to take “legal action” against a local private news group, Eleven Media.

The statement said the action related to reports that “could tarnish the image” of the ministry’s publishing arm, relating to the alleged misuse of government funds in the procurement of printing presses for state newspapers.

The New Light, which is largely read by foreign expats, has toned down its bombast in recent years, replacing rhetoric against critics and international media — such as accusing the BBC of “killer broadcasts” and “sowing hatred” — with celebrity gossip and sports.

But despite the revamp and 49 percent ownership by a Myanmar firm, the paper remains deeply linked to the government, while the two Burmese-language state papers remain fully under ministry control.

Eleven Media has stood by its allegations that officials may have overpaid for printing equipment.

“If they do file a lawsuit against us, we will have to face it,” Wai Phyo, editor-in-chief of The Daily Eleven newspaper, told AFP.

A quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011 and has since removed Internet restrictions, freed imprisoned journalists and lifted pre-publication censorship, which previously applied to everything from lottery numbers to fairytales.

But concerns over media freedoms remain, with several high-profile legal cases this year against journalists raising international concern.

The New Light said it would be the “genuine Fourth Estate” in a rhyming mission statement on Wednesday.

“No bias, no cult and no craze/ New style, new essence and the new phase/ GNLM will always be all the rage!” it read.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.