The Myanmar Times
The Union Day Burmese language issue – vol 26:505, 11–17 February 2011
|Owner||Myanmar Consolidated Media Co. Ltd. (MCM)|
|Founder||Ross Dunkley and Sonny Swe (Myat Swe)|
|Editor||Dr. Tin Tun Oo (Burmese edition)
Bill Clough (English edition)
|Headquarters||No. 379/383, Bo Aung Kyaw Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon, Myanmar|
It is published in both English and Burmese. The 40-page English version is published on a Monday, while the 68-page Burmese version is published on a Thursday. The Myanmar Times was founded by Ross Dunkley, an Australian, and Sonny Swe (Myat Swe), from Burma, in 2000, making it the only Burmese newspaper to have foreign investment. The newspaper is privately owned by Myanmar Consolidated Media Co. Ltd. (MCM), which is 51 percent locally owned and 49 percent foreign owned. However, The Myanmar Times is often perceived as being close to the government in part because Sonny Swe’s father, Brigadier General Thein Swe, was a senior member of the now-disbanded Military Intelligence department. Following Sonny Swe’s imprisonment in 2005, another Burmese media entrepreneur, Dr Tin Tun Oo, acquired the locally owned share of MCM in controversial circumstances.
Like all media in Myanmar, The Myanmar Times is heavily censored by the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, commonly known as the Press Scrutiny Board. According to CEO Ross Dunkley, on average 20 percent of the articles submitted to the censorship board are rejected and the gaps are filled with soft news stories.
When it was first established, The Myanmar Times was the only publication in the country to be censored by Military Intelligence, rather than the Press Scrutiny Board. This created some resentment locally, among both the Ministry of Information and other journals. Internationally, the paper has been derided as “sophisticated propaganda” and a public relations tool for more progressive elements in the government, like General Khin Nyunt, Myanmar's former Prime Minister. However, since Military Intelligence was abolished the paper has been censored by the Press Scrutiny Board. It is also now forced to print government propaganda, albeit under a “State Opinion” banner.
Myanmar Consolidated Media is the largest private media company in Myanmar and employs more than 300 staff and has bureaus in Mandalay and Naypyidaw. The paper has a circulation of around 25,000 copies in Burmese and 3,000 copies in English. A January 2008 report said the Burmese edition is the country’s largest circulation newspaper, while the English edition is the only privately owned and operated English-language newspaper in the country.
As well as The Myanmar Times, Myanmar Consolidated Media also publishes Crime Journal, a weekly tabloid, and NOW! Magazine, a weekly fashion, entertainment and celebrity news journal. Foreign shareholders in The Myanmar Times have also acquired a stake in The Phnom Penh Post, a Cambodian English-language newspaper.
In December 2009 the English edition celebrated its 500th edition with a 72-page feature.
Co-founder of The Myanmar Times and Deputy CEO Sonny Swe was arrested on 26 November 2004. In April 2005 he was given a 14-year jail sentence for publishing the papers without approval from the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny Board. The charges were imposed retroactively after Military Intelligence was declared an illegal organisation, which in turn meant The Myanmar Times had been effectively publishing uncensored material since its launch. He received jail terms of seven years for each edition. He was released from Taunggyi Prison in Shan State on 23 April 2013 after serving more than eight years of a 14-year sentence.
Swe's arrest and sentencing were generally considered political and linked to his father’s senior position in Military Intelligence, a government body that was purged in 2004 after a power struggle within the military. Following Sonny Swe’s arrest, his stake in The Myanmar Times was transferred to his wife, Yamin Htin Aung, who continued to hold the local share with another investor, Pyone Maung Maung, for almost a year.
However, she was forced by the Ministry of Information to sell her stake to another local media entrepreneur, Dr Tin Tun Oo, whose company, Thuta Swe Sone, publishes four other journals. Dr Tin Tun Oo is the secretary of the Myanmar Writers and Journalists' Association and is believed to have a close relationship with the Ministry of Information. When Myanmar Consolidated Media’s shareholders initially refused to comply with the ministry, rumours circulated that the paper would be shut down. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer reportedly flew to Yangon to intervene, although his office denied this.
The newspaper is still widely referred to as semi-official or government-owned, despite the fact it is run by a private company. When, on 17 January 2011, the state-owned paper The Mirror implied that Tin Tun Oo had taken over as editor-in-chief of MCM, fueling rumors of a power struggle between Ross Dunkley and Tin Tun Oo, it received a formal complaint from the media group.
Killer Than Shwe advertisement
In July 2007, a Danish group named Surrend placed an advertisement in The Myanmar Times’ English edition that contained the concealed messages “freedom” and “killer Than Shwe”, a reference to Burma's head of state. The bogus advertisement appeared to be a call for tourists from Scandinavia and contained the word Ewhsnahtrellik – or “killer Than Shwe” in reverse – as well as a supposed “old Danish poem”, the acrostic of which read “freedom”. The group said it placed the ad to “show that you can find cracks or holes in even the worst regimes”. The controversy made that week’s edition a “best-seller” and copies were sold for two times their face value by local newspaper vendors.
While no serious action was taken against The Myanmar Times for publishing the advertisement, two staff at the Press Scrutiny Board were removed from their positions and copies of the newspaper were pulled from the shelves. The stunt was widely criticised by those in the local media industry but Surrend founder Jan Egesborg defended the group’s prank, saying “we are very sorry for the people ... but if [the authorities] do something like that it says something about the regime”.
Banned for one week
In January 2008, The Myanmar Times’ Myanmar-language edition was banned from publishing for one week. The ban was imposed by the Press Scrutiny Board after the newspaper’s editors published a story on 11 January about satellite licence fees, despite being warned not to do so. The ban was subsequently condemned by Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association. In the following week’s English edition, CEO Ross Dunkley defended the article as “good journalism” and denied that he had been told to sack four editors. However, he did announce an editorial “reshuffle” and the creation of an Editorial Steering Committee to both “safeguard the company from conflict with the authorities” and “plan improvements and expansion”.
Arrest of Ross Dunkley
On 10 February 2011, Ross Dunkley, the founder and editor-in-chief of the weekly, was arrested and charged with breaching immigration law by assaulting a sex worker. On 13 February 2011, after Dunkley's arrest, Dr. Tin Tun Oo of Swesone Media and Mr Bill Clough of Far Eastern Consolidated Media (FECM) were appointed as editors-in-chief of the Burmese and English language editions. He was released on bail on 29 March from Insein Prison after posting bail and was convicted on 30 June 2011, of assaulting the woman and breaching immigration laws and forced to pay 100,000 kyats in fines.
Links with The Phnom Penh Post
In late 2007 investors in Myanmar Consolidated Media took a controlling interest in well-regarded English-language newspaper The Phnom Penh Post, based in Cambodia. The investors were identified as Ross Dunkley and Bill Clough, an Australian mining and oil and gas entrepreneur. (3) Six months after the takeover, The Phnom Penh Post, which was established by American Michael Hayes in 1991, went from publishing fortnightly to daily.
- Burma: Co-founder of Myanmar Times On Trial, Centre for Independent Journalism, 8 February 2005.
- Burma’s generals move against ‘Myanmar Times' Bangkok Post, 18 October 2005.
- Burmese government suspends newspaper The Committee to Protect Journalists, 23 January 2008.
- Is Australia’s role in the Myanmar Times coming to an end? Crikey, 20 October 2005.
- Myanmar Times on the Rocks after Share-Holder Pullout Mizzima, 15 September 2005.
- Want to work “under censorship in a challenging media environment”? Crikey, 24 August 2006.
- Olszewski, Peter (2006) (paperback). Land of a Thousand Eyes: The Subtle Pleasures of Everyday Life in Myanmar. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-507-4.
- Nan Tin Htwe and Jessica Mudditt (25 April 2013). "Prison release bittersweet for Sonny Swe". The Myanmar Times. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- Uncertainty Surrounds Myanmar Times The Irrawaddy, 14 September 2005.
- Myanmar Times Carries “Killer Than Shwe” AdThe Irrawaddy, 24 July 2007.
- La Pyae (21 January 2011). "Internal Power Struggle at Myanmar Times?". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- Surrend ad in Myanmar Times Surrend, Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- Booby-trapped Myanmar Times a Best Seller The Irrawaddy, 25 July 2007.
- Surrend defends Myanmar Times ad as fallout hits Rangoon Democratic Voice of Burma, 26 July 2007.
- Myanmar Times banned for one week by censors Democratic Voice of Burma, 17 January 2008.
- Comprehensive changes at The Myanmar Times The Myanmar Times, 21 January 2008.
- Wai Moe (24 February 2011). "Dunkley Arrest Rocks Rangoon Media". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- "Management, editorial changes at Myanmar Consolidated Media". The Myanmar Times. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
- "Dunkley convicted, freed by Burma court". Democratic Voice of Burma. AFP. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Australians invest in media project in Phnom Penh The Myanmar Times, 7 January 2008.