Exiled journalists think Burma News International's model might be the solution for securing support despite some challenges
As the Burmese Spring started off with its recent series of changes, Burma has been drawing media attentions from all around the world. The international community responded positively by lifting sanctions and re-engaging with the then closed country.
International aids and nongovernmental organisations are rushing into the country. As most Burmese exiled media organisations are dependent on NGOs funding, they are facing the challenge of maintaining their roles in exile and securing their donors’ support. Cooperating and merging into a large news group might be the solutions, some exiled journalists think.
“If Burma News International (BNI) can form as one group in stead of operating as small groups, I think they can survive,” said Ronald Aung Naing, 45, an exiled journalism trainer who freelances for BBC and Asia Calling, radio station based in Jakarta. The former leader of All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) turned journalist is talking about a news media network composed of almost all of the ethnics’ media groups from Burma.
BNI, started in 2003 with four exiled media groups, has 11 members and they are mainly the borders based ethnic groups and other two Burmese-focused groups. Their members are Mizzima News, Narinjara News, Kaladan Press, Karen Information Center, Khonumthung News, Network Media Group, Independent Mon News Agency, Shan Herald Agency for News, Kaowao News, Kantarawaddy Times and Kachin News Group.
Aung Naing, BNI's Development Officer from 2006 to 2008, said the members of BNI, the largest network of media organisations in exile, can share experience and work together for journalism development. For reporters of its members, BNI also provides journalism training, which Aung Naing himself is one of the trainers.
As BNI was formed to share experience and talk among members, it is not like an alliance but loosely joined network, Aung Naing, said, adding that individual groups are producing their news stories and they have their own ethnic stances with their own identities. They have their own audiences and readers who go to the original members’ sites instead of coming to BNI, which usually puts the stories a bit late.
S.H.A.N editor Khuensai Jaiyen, current Development Officer of BNI, said BNI is like a mini-federal state and it’s for Burmans and non-Burmans to grow beyond their ethnicity.
BNI aims to disseminate news to the regional media agencies and to provide the international audience the combination of most ethnic nationalities and Burmese news. “Only those foreigners audience like media organisations, NGOs, experts, and academics come to BNI (website),” Aung Naing said.
Khuensai believes that BNI should become more like a super news agency, like AP or CNN, providing original news to clients.
“We have more readerships because of BNI – but they do not get so many hits per day,” he said.
But BNI has been performing great in its joint project, monitoring 2010 general election and 2012 by-election, which senior editors and reporters of members’ groups worked together to get stories from all the ethnic areas and filed reports.
“If there is really freedom in Burma, BNI has a sudden role to play in covering news in different ethnic areas as it's composed of different diverse groups,” Aung Naing said.
One solution might be, Aung Naing said, that BNI members merge into one big group. They can be together but at the same time they can be different like BBC World Service, he said.
“We can put all the stories in the main production and share them with other languages. It will be cheaper and stronger.”
Aung Naing thinks that exiled media organisations now should think about marketing and selling their products. “We talked about how to get our own income long time ago but we couldn’t solve this problem,” he said.
When asked whether they can depend on advertisements for their own revenue, Aung Naing said it was very difficult for them to get an advertisement because those who advertise in exiled media might not be able to work inside Burma as they have to deal with the government. “There could be some ways, but nobody's successful yet,” he said.
"If there is really freedom in Burma, BNI has a sudden role to play in covering news in different ethnic areas as it's composed of different diverse groups."
Aung Naing, Chiang Mai-based Journalism Trainer
This article is contributed by Sai Aung Hsen, a student in Journalism – Editor