Prior to the reform period, 1964 was often referred to as the time the country last had a free press. Following relaxation of regulations under the Thein Sein government, pre-publication censorship was lifted in 2012. Where private news journals had been allowed to publish weekly, the government was now permitting dailies to go ahead. In 2013, licences for some 30 publications were granted. However, after an initial boom period, the realities of the difficulty of keeping print publications afloat began to set in. State media retains dominance in the field of print, given their extensive distribution networks and competitive advantage where production is concerned. They are also insulated from the profit imperative.
There is a high level of political parallelism within the print media in Myanmar. Political party-backed publications such as the National League for Democracy’s D-Wave Journal, or the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s Union Daily are prime examples of this. However, many media outlets harbour an inherent bias — often toward the Suu Kyi-led government. Ethnic media are likely to represent the interests and views of their associated armed wings, rather than the Bamar central state.
The commercial capital of Yangon still grapples with infrastructure problems — an unstable electricity grid, as well as labour costs and issues surrounding print quality. Data on circulation and sales is difficult to come by. Where publications might inflate their readership for advertisers, they will similarly understate it when tax time rolls around. There is no accurate publicly available data. For most publications, finding and maintaining advertising clients is an ongoing struggle and one that makes the difference between running at a profit or a loss. Trademark cautions and legal notices populate the pages of state media, as well as select private publications. This can provide some steady income, albeit not as profitable as private advertising. In public opinion survey findings released by the International Republican Institute in 2017, 8 percent of respondents said newspapers were their primary source for news. An exhaustive list of the journals and newspapers published in Myanmar is unlikely to be accurate from one week to the next: The market is volatile and print properties regularly crop up and drop off.