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Situation Analysis of Community Media Sustainability in Myanmar (2020) UNESCO Yangon Project Office

This is a research analysis on the sustainability of community media in Myanmar conducted by AMARC Asia-Pacific (1) with the permission of UNESCO Myanmar. The purpose of the analysis is to contribute to the growth of community broadcasting in Myanmar through its findings.

Myanmar is a country with great linguistic, cultural, and geographical diversity. Its people speak many different languages. Currently, Khayae community radio is the only terrestrial community radio in Myanmar, but five other community media projects are running with the support of international organizations. The names of these projects are Phual Va FM, Heisa FM, Falam Community Media, Thitsar FM, and Chaungzone. These projects hope to receive broadcasting licenses to become full-fledged terrestrial radio stations. (2)

 

AMARC Asia-Pacific and UNESCO recognize the importance of community media, especially community radio because it’s a medium through which both rural and urban communities can access the same information in their own languages in a fast, efficient, and widespread manner. Community media differs from commercial media because, with its independence, it is not-for-profit and created by employing the communities it represents. It is localized and, therefore, convenient for a country like Myanmar with various linguistic and cultural groups. Moreover, community radio provides those who aren’t represented in mainstream media with an opportunity to empower themselves. Overall, community radio sustains and helps healthy and flourishing democracies because it permits people of varying socioeconomic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds to access reliable information that they need in order to make reasonable civic decisions.


Based on the findings from this report, legal and general recommendations for community broadcasting in Myanmar have been established. First, AMARC Asia-Pacific recommends that the Broadcasting Law 2015 (3) be amended to expand the definition of community broadcasting. AMARC recommended the definition to include internet-based community radio stations. Next, they recommend that there be no requirement for a broadcasting license for pre-registered organizations. To protect and foster the growth of independent media, AMARC also advises that the law include an emphasis on self-regulation, the establishment of the independent community media development fund, an extension of validity of a community broadcasting license, and an extension of support to the government for the implementation of this law. On another note, general recommendations formulated including the formation of a Myanmar community media support group and a community radio association as well as the creation of grassroots campaigns for popularizing community media. Lastly but not the least, the law should also consider engagement with commercial and public service broadcasters. the print media and the implementation of an innovation lab for community radio development.

Khayae FM, Myanmar's first community radio station’s first regular live transmission on Sunday, February 18, 2018. Photo by DW Akademie.

Even though this article was published in 2020, the 2021 Military Coup in Myanmar should be considered towards Myanmar's progress towards developing community media. Ever since Myanmar adopted a military regime, more restrictions have been placed on efforts to sustain reliable media and journalism. In November 2021, the military regime amended the law without consulting with the public. Imprisonment is now one of the punishments for violating key parts of the law. Originally, offenders had only been subject to fines. In addition, the amended law vaguely defines broadcasting such as television, radio, and “any other technology” that people use to access audio and visual media.

 

(1) AMARC Asia-Pacific is the regional autonomous chapter of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC International). AMARC Asia-Pacific is constituted by the members of AMARC from countries in the Asia-Pacific region. AMARC Asia-Pacific has a sub-regional governance structure that consists of South Asia, South East Asia, the Pacific and East Asia. AMARC Asia-Pacific aims to promote social justice and sustainable, democratic and participatory human development. In pursuit of its goal AMARC’s purpose is to amplify the voices of the excluded and marginalized through community media and new ICTs, to support popular access to communications, and to defend and promote the development of community radio.


(2) Phual Va FM, Heisa FM, and Falam Community Media are projects in the Chin State. In the Delta areas, there is Thitsar FM. Meanwhile, there is another community media project in Mon state (Chaungzone).


(3) The Broadcasting Law 2015 is a law that was adopted by the Burmese government in August 2015. Though it is positive because it recognizes community broadcasting and recognizes the basic principles of freedom of expression and media pluralism, it was criticized by human rights organizations for failing to protect media independence and protecting the president’s power to control the broadcasting sector. The law was amended in 2018 and 2021, but human rights organizations continue to advocate for more changes, as the law continues to primarily privilege the government’s power over community media, restricting media independence and leading to human rights abuses.

 

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