April 13, 2021
Opinions and Commentary

Chin Media Outlets in Myanmar struggle to survive

I started journalism with my own interest, to preserve our language and to inform what is happening around us to my people,” he said. “Things made it a challenge for my family survival. But I can’t stop doing this. If I stop this, how will my people know the news.

Van Kio, Editor of Cirhti and Zalen News

By Za Bawi Thawng— Van Kio, editor of Falam-dialect publication Cirhti News and Burmese publication Zalen News used his own pocket money and sometimes asked from his wife and family.

He has been running those online publications for three years. However, he has no any single financial rewards nor donors.

“I started journalism with my own interest, to preserve our language and to inform what is happening around us to my people,” he said. “Things made it a challenge for my family survival. But I can’t stop doing this. If I stop this, how will my people know the news.”

According to a 2019 research report from Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), there are currently 25 private Chin media outlets operating in Myanmar, representing close to 40 percent of all local media in Myanmar’s ethnic states and regions.

Chin State, however, is situated in the western part of Myanmar, with a population of 478,801, the poorest of all 14 States and Regions, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

For Chin, the number of media outlets resulted due to the diversity of the languages within the Chin. However, the quality and survival are the challenges that they face and have been struggling with for almost a decade, but they can’t solve it yet.

Chin-based journalists spend their own money to buy internet data and petrol for travelling to sources. Sometime if they have no money, they will ask for help from their parents or family.

Some journalists are working completely for free; they can’t stop doing it for their audience. “Working as a journalist in Chin is not just because of my will, but the demands from our people. So, I can’t stop doing this,” Bawi Uk Thang, Chief Editor in The Chinland Post, said.

There are nine townships in Chin State: Hakha, Thantlang, Falam, Tedim, Tonzang, Matupi, Mindat, Kanpetlet, and Paletwa. Each of the townships has slightly different languages and traditions. Media became one of the troops to preserve their language and traditions in this century, which resulted in them building up many private media outlets in Chin State.

“Mainly in Chin we have 10 used local languages and more than 30 sub-dialects under that,” said Salai Ceu Bik Thawng, General Secretary of Chin National League for Democracy.

The majority of the media outlets that use local dialect spread information to their audiences via multiple platforms- online, print, radio and broadcast.

The Chin Media Network (CMN), a consortium of 15 media groups across Chin, Sagaing and Yangon, also has the same problem. “We’ve all agreed to form one media organization,” said Robert Ropuia, CMN Director and editor-in-charge of Burmese-language publication Khonumthung. “However, we have a problem with what language to use. As it’s not possible to publish in multiple Chin languages.”

Salai Ceu Bik Thawng believes it is unadvisable for Chin media to form in one. “English and Burmese languages would have more space in our community. For more than six decades, we have no right to learn our languages in the school. So, we need to preserve our languages and cultures as much as possible,” he said.

Chin government still doesn’t understand that the media is one of the pillars of the State. Our party used to advise the government to set aside one percent of their annual budget for Chin media

Salai Ceu Bik Thawng

Chin state holds the biggest number of media groups among the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. However, the quality of the media and reporting styles of the news stories have been another challenge for the Chin media.

“When the country first opened freedom of press in 2012, lots of people founded private media with their own perspective,” Robert Ropuia explained.

“Some people have built them up just to seek preservation of their language without having a proper strategic plan for long-term or have no knowledge about journalism.”

Chin World and Khonumthung media are well known in the country which published in Burmese language. Both editors from these two media said that they used this Burmese because they want to focus only on the media line at their outlets.

“Almost all of the media started on the basics of preserving Chin languages. We need to focus on two lines, only to preserve the language is not the journalism style despite following media ethics,” said Salai Hung Htun Gei, Editor of Chin World.

Using the national language, Burmese, may draw less audiences from Chin state. But to inform Chin news to the nation may have more effective since there are no mainstream media based in Chin State.

Van Nun Ham, a Chin lecturer working at Mandalay University, sees that Chin media outlets are not following media ethics which is really essential for any journalist.

“If they want to be a journalist, they should know what they need to follow. I am not sure whether they are aware of media laws and ethics that we have in our country.”

Chin media reports also lack important information as reporters are not aware that their reports should be fair and accurate. Some people who can read Burmese will read a mainstream newspaper instead of the Chin publications, Van Nun Ham added.

Bawi Uk Thang from The Chinland Post said they followed media ethics. The organization uses local dialects, Lai (Hakha Chin). They began with a website and later produced a daily print publication, a local TV channel, and a bi-monthly magazine, Chin Digest. We are, in fact, the second ethnic media organization, after ethnic Mon media, that was granted official permission by the Ministry of Information since June 2013.

“I can say that we are the only media organization that runs with a proper strategic plan and follows the media ethics among the Chin language outlets.”

When the Chinland Post receives donations, they can organize their organization functioning in better ways including staff operations and the quality of reporting is higher. But, when they don’t receive any donors it’s quality starts going down, explained Bawi Uk Thang.

Quality of media is based on the financial situation, Robert Ropuia explained his experience. He said “When CMN receives donations from the UNDP we can frequently conduct the training for the reporters to promote their capacity building and knowledge about the journalist skills, we really improve our quality. But, when we don’t have one, we can’t.”

In the past five years, no less than five private media outlets have stopped their operation due to financial issue. The Chin Times, based in Kalay, Sagaing region where there are half of the Chin population in the town, had stopped after five years of publishing a newspaper in 2018.

Salai Ngun Lal, a former editor-in-chief of The Chin Times, said he spent more than 1,000,000 MMK for the publication of their paper. “Though I want to continue doing this job, however, I could not afford to do this,” he said

Robert Ropuia said Chin journalists need to use money from their own pockets. “If we don’t have money, we can’t operate our outlets continually which resulted in us stopping our outlets,” he explained.

There are some media outlets who received a donation from International donors. According to CMN, four media groups received donations from 2013 to 2020. Yet those donations are not for a long-term project, but for either a quarter, half-a-year or one year.

Other ethnic media outlets in Myanmar have revenue sources such as advertising and print copy sales.  But for Chin, it is not possible. Each Chin-language publication only has a market audience of 500 to 1,000 people.

Salai Hung Htun Gei said Chin government doesn’t provide any single Kyats of money to the Chin media. “When the government wants to call a tender, they have approximately 1,000,000 MMK to use it for the advertisement on media. But it never goes to the Chin media outlets,” he said.

“Chin government still doesn’t understand that the media is one of the pillars of the State. Our party used to advise the government to set aside one percent of their annual budget for Chin media,” Salai Ceu Bik Thawng said.

Van Kio said he earned enough money when he previously worked as a reporter at Eleven Media, one of the mainstream media organizations in Myanmar.

“But, when I saw that they are not giving much attention to our Chin community, I stopped working there. As I see that my Chin community has needed me more,” he said.

Za Bawi Thawng is a Chin journalist and former Editor-in-Charge at The Chinland Post. He is currently completing an M.A., in International Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University. – Editor ([email protected])

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