The Internet and the media in Myanmar were once among the most restricted in the world. A young Myanmar gives his opinion of how the now flourishing media landscape could be better.
Unlike older generations of Myanmar who tend to shy away from using technology, younger generations in the South East Asian country are beginning to embrace media that is now more readily available online.
Back in 2009, when Myanmar was still under the oppressive rule of the military junta, Internet access was less than 1 percent. By 2015, 40 percent of the population aged 16-65 owned a phone, and a quarter of these (or around 10 percent of the population) had mobile Internet access (although this is not always used to browse websites, but rather access Facebook or use WhatsApp).
Increased purchasing powers among youth and cheaper mobile phones that have flooded the market from China have helped to promote this mobile Internet usage.
Facebook is resoundingly the most popular social platform in the South East Asian country, in part because it uses less bandwidth to access and it's easier to use with Myanmar font than Twitter or Instagram.
Lone Lone Kavan, an English Literature graduate turned audio engineer and graphic motion designer, says the biggest problem of accessing online media platforms is the erratic and often slow speed of the Internet in Myanmar.
He also warns that the rapid uptake of social media combined with low media literacy rates among users, creates room for misinformation or rumor to spread easily.
"I don’t believe everything I read on social media," Lone Lone says. "I know someone is accountable for writing something in newspapers. The difference between printed media and online is this sense of accountability."
Lone Lone says he likes to read a broad spectrum of media, browsing newspapers and online mediums equally.
He is not a fan of Myanmar television because he believes the content is watered down and it concentrates too much on entertainment, celebrity gossip and game shows rather than providing critical news or educational programs. All free-to-air channels in Myanmar are state-owned.
As someone who grew up in a relatively middle-class family, Lone Lone has enjoyed a broad education and his media habits are typical of any widely traveled, technologically oriented 20-year old from just about anywhere in the world.
He uses various media for work, checking his emails, Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly. He is also signed up to Couchsurfing.com, a network connecting travelers and potential hosts which he uses extensively when traveling overseas. Lone Lone is even learning German and regularly checks the websites of Der Spiegel and Deutsche Welle to practice his German language skills.
But Lone Lone says when in Myanmar, he prefers to read what he says are reliable Myanmar-language publications such as Eleven Media, The 7 Day Daily and the English-language daily, The Myanmar Times.
Lone Lone believes there is still a wide gap in the distribution and access of media, particularly for those who live in remote or regional areas of the country. "Almost all the media like newspapers, radio and television are in Burmese [the official Myanmar language] or English but not all of us speak these languages," he says. "In my opinion, it would be good if the media can produce more products as well as a wider variety of ethnic language news so they can cater for this gap."
During Myanmar's five decades of military rule, Burmese was declared the sole language and languages spoken by ethnic groups, who make up more than a third of Myanmar's population, were effectively criminalized. In 2014, the country had less than 50 ethnic media outlets.
Lone Lone adds that while there have been many improvements to the media environment in Myanmar, he does not believe media practitioners are wholly free to write without fear of persecution.
Media Situation in Myanmar
A report launched by PEN America, Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar, highlights continued gaps in the right to exercise freedom of expression in Myanmar. The report underlines how censorship is still enforced through the Armed Forces Accurate Information team, which has issued warnings on the portrayal of perceived criticisms towards the Myanmar government and its armed forces. The recent imprisonment of activists, threats towards journalists and lengthy trials of student activists do suggest that old junta habits are still at play.
Access to information makes it difficult for media practitioners to do their jobs properly, resulting in unbalanced articles that are often short on details. And while there may have been a lifting of censorship and ownership of print media in 2012, radio and television remain dominated by state-owned outlets with heavy censorship of content. Ethnic media is also under duress with few resources made available for language-specific content.
Access to media has certainly improved for some but without the relevant skills such as computer or language literacy, media such as online blogs and websites remains inaccessible for most.
Finally, in consideration of media development, there is a real concern that online hate speech has fueled race-related communal violence in Myanmar. Vitriolic hate speech calling for the killing of the ethnic Rohingya and Muslims has proliferated, with little done by government moderators to allay tensions. "Freedom of speech" has been used in this context to excuse hate speech.
Written by Manny Maung