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Reviewed by:
  • Myanmar Media in Transition: Legacies, Challenges and Change ed. by Lisa Brooten et al.
  • Kristina Simion
Lisa Brooten, Jane Madlyn McElhone, and Gayathry Venkiteswaran, eds. 2019. Myanmar Media in Transition: Legacies, Challenges and Change. Singapore: ISEAS. 407 pp. ISBN 9789814843409

This edited collection of twenty-one chapters provides a thorough introduction to developments in Myanmar’s media sector since the country’s political opening enhanced by valuable historical glimpses. The book fills an important gap in the existing literature on media and transition by moving beyond a focus on economic forces of change to covering grassroots change agents and the “non-state and non-commercial efforts that also compel and propel change during transition” (p. 8).

The book gathers overviews of topics linked to Myanmar’s media landscape: social and digital media (chapters 18–20), the music and film industry (chapters 14–16), the literary scene (chapter 17), questions of law and regulation (chapters 2 and 11), international aid (chapter 3), the emerging information and communications technologies sector (chapter 5), regional and local media as well as media coverage (chapters 6, 9, and 10), media coverage of natural disasters and elections (chapters 7 and 13), and issues of male domination over the sector (chapter 12). In addition, interviews with key figures of Myanmar media in chapters 4 (Thiha Saw) and 8 (Ye Naing Moe) add personal insights into print media and watchdog functions. The interviews capture the voices of actors with firsthand insights into Myanmar’s media landscape [End Page 325] during years of military rule, censorship, and persecution for their engagement in the sector. Overall, the book nicely brings together contributions from activists, academics, journalists, writers, and development practitioners from Myanmar and beyond to provide a rich and vibrant account of the field and its dynamics.

The book is divided into four parts: “Structural Constraints and Opportunities,” “Journalism in Transition,” “Creative Expression,” and “Society and Media.” Although not stated explicitly, several chapters address issues of reporting on Rakhine as well as challenges facing the Rohingya. The book ends with a thought-inspiring epilogue that includes the important question of “Where do we go from here?” Myanmar Media in Transition: Legacies, Challenges and Change would serve as a great companion for journalists, practitioners, and activists who are deployed to Myanmar or those who have an interest in the media sector as well as for students and academics searching for theoretical and practical insights.

The introductory chapter sets the scene by presenting a comparative perspective on media and political transitions. It is useful for understanding the challenges facing the media and state/media relationships in countries with hybrid regimes. It also summarizes the contemporary media landscape and issues that reformers face. The chapter nicely summarizes key historical events and delves into “the country’s long struggle with censorship and control, religious and state involvement with media (and its) vibrant, yet tumultuous, journalistic past” (p. 13 ff). Highlights include descriptions of the postindependence press as one of the liveliest in Asia functioning as a watchdog against corruption (p. 17), the expulsion of foreign correspondents and banning of foreign journalists after 1974 (p. 19), the various forms of creative expressions that thrived as a functioning television service was lacking (p. 20), and the practice of reviewing printed material post print (p. 25).

One particularly interesting chapter is chapter 2: “Legal Changes for Media and Expression: New Reforms, Old [End Page 326] Controls.” The chapter provides an introduction to the planned legal reforms that had activists and others hoping for a more enabling media environment. However, as the chapter tells, instead disappointment became vast as the National League for Democracy–led government failed to reform the existing legal framework in line with international standards, thus continuing the use of draconic colonial criminal laws to silence critical voices and journalists. Importantly, the chapter however provides a comprehensive guide to any changes to laws related to media and free expression that have been made since 2011. The chapter also critiques international actors that continue to stress the importance of “laws as fundamental to the transition . . . in a country where the judicial process has been used to imprison critics and censor the media” (p. 60...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2010-314X
Print ISSN
1094-799X
Pages
pp. 325-329
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-12
Open Access
No
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