Converging media in a time of transition

Burma -June 2016

From Nicola Harford, Director of Operations and Learning:

My recent trip to Burma/Myanmar revealed some significant changes in the political and media landscape since my first visit two years ago. In the parliamentary elections held in November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept the board with 80% of the vote and gained a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament (the military retains 25% of seats). The new government has only formally been in power for a matter of weeks and it remains to be seen how quickly democratic space will open up. Caution appears to be the watchword right now. While the independent press has been expanding since 2013, broadcast freedoms have lagged: new players are poised to take advantage of a law enacted last year supporting community and public service broadcasting.

The most visible change is the proliferation of mobile ownership: in the past three years it has expanded from 12% to 73% of the population. Cheap smartphones are ubiquitous. Facebook is the most popular website and the go-to source of information (accurate or not) for urban populations. Radio is still the main source of information in rural areas, but it too is moving with the times. With support from BBC Media Action and other media development organisations, the state broadcaster MRTV is producing its own public interest programming, featuring ordinary people and exploring social and political issues. And for the first time it is airing a BBC-branded output – the ‘Tea Cup Diaries’. This Archers-style radio drama in Burmese is set in a tea shop – the perfect place to bring together a range of characters with different ethnic and religious identities and thus show audiences how they can overcome their differences. Members of listening groups in rural areas discuss the stories and issues raised face to face. Urban listeners are encouraged to follow its Facebook page, which is updated regularly and has over 138,000 likes.