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Press associations in Burma have slammed state-run media for bias after a front-page headline was widely perceived as promoting incumbent President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Government-backed dailies Myanma Alin and Kyemon ran the following headline in green font on Saturday: “The town of Meikhtila and the Meiktila plains shall be covered in green”. The news report followed Thein Sein’s recent visit to Shan State where he inspected a hydropower dam in Myogyi Township that upon completion will provide water to the Meikhtila plains in the west. The colour green is the brand colour of the USDP.
Photos accompanying the report depict the president surrounded by USDP supporters in white and green uniforms, waving party flags.
State-run English-language daily Global New Light of Myanmar ran a similar headline with a green banner.
Myint Kyaw, an executive member of the Myanmar Journalism Institute, said, “Everyone interpreted this [headline] as an endorsement of the USDP … The newspapers rarely used this colour of font; they usually use a black font. Moreover, the headline ‘Meikhtila plains to be covered in green’ sounds rather suggestive. It is not an objective news headline. Pretty much everyone knows what the agenda is – to promote the USDP.”
Thiha Saw, the chairman of the Myanmar Journalists Association, noted that bias exists on both sides.
“We are seeing a lot of bias from two different sides,” he told DVB this weekend. “In an interview with a foreign news group, I was asked why the majority of private publications in Burma were promoting the ‘red side’ [National League for Democracy]. On the other hand, the state-owned and state-affiliated media are evidently focusing on the party whose colour is green.
“The principles of ‘AIR’ – accuracy, impartiality and responsibility – still haven’t been fully realised by private media, let alone government outlets. The government media is still partisan and biased towards the USDP.”
A recent survey by Myanmar Institute for Democracy, an election watchdog, highlighted that state-run media only focus on the activities of the president and cabinet members, while ignoring other political parties.
“Print media and internet have so far offered a diverse range of views, with private papers and online media showing their preferences toward the NLD, and state-funded papers supporting the authorities,” MID reported on 17 October. ‘The qualitative analysis also indicates that a number of media neglect to offer voters opposing views on particular stories.”
MID said it monitored three online web portals – Irrawaddy, Mizzima and Eleven News Group – all of which “devoted the bulk of their coverage to the NLD.”
DVB television coverage was singled out for impartiality in the report.
“In a positive development, DVB has so far been the only channel to offer its viewers debates between the contestants,” MID said. “These debates have enabled candidates to convey their messages to the electorate and allowed voters to form opinions of the candidates.”