Myanmar Times | Ba Gyi Soe Tint felt a tinge of sadness when he woke up on Tuesday to read the news. It wasn’t the ongoing toll from COVID-19 that worried him so much, but that the newspaper hadn’t been delivered to his house.
He had read about the Yangon-wide stay-at-home announcement on Monday, just a day after it had been issued. But today the 75-year old felt disconnected from current events, after hearing news that local newspapers had ceased circulating in print.
“I don’t use my phone very much, and I only read the newspaper to find out what’s happening. I will be lost for information for two weeks,” Ba Gyi Soe Tint (also known as U Soe Tint), said.
With Sunday’s sudden stay-at-home announcement, many magazine and newspaper publishing operations have been put on halt.
Along with the nation’s two state-run newspapers, the private newspaper Daily Eleven will still continue to publish in print. The Voice, The Standard Time Daily, The Myanmar Times and 7 Days News newspapers stopped their presses on September 22 and 23.
Ye Lin Htay, the distribution officer at The Myanmar Times, cited delivery problems during the lockdown as a main reason for shutting down.
Most newspapers are also burdened with losses from print sales, given that many distribution outlets such as shops and shopping centers have closed. Shops which remain open report reduced numbers of customers.
Win Tin, editor of The Standard Time Daily, said that he felt sorry for newspaper readers.
“For many newspaper consumers, the newspaper is a daily necessity. It’s part of their lives. If we don’t publish, they feel that something is missing,” U Win Tin said.
Like many outlets, U Win Tin vows to have the printing presses restarted in the first week of October, when the stay-at-home order is expected to be revised.
Ko Min Maw, who sells newspapers on Sanchaung Street, decided to refund his customers after newspaper companies were forced to stop printing on Tuesday, 22 September, 2020..
Ko Ah Man, the editor-in-chief of 7 Days News, said the newspaper was forced to shut down and regretted that the public hadn’t been better informed by the government.
Businesses which provide food, shelter, medicines, clean water and other essential services were exempted from the first stay-at-home order. The list was expanded on September 23 to include airlines and telecommunications services, though media companies were still not included.
Ko Ah Man said that it was unfortunate that media organisations were not included in the revised list, given that many people relied on newspapers and print media for information. “At a time when the situation in the country is very critical, we are very disappointed that the media was not included the announcement,” he said.
U Aung Hla Tun, the Deputy Minister of Information, recognised that the media is indispensable during this time and urged government to be more lenient on organisations during the lockdowns.
The Myanmar Press Council also submitted a report to the government, urging the authorities not to suspend media operations during the lockdowns.
From a consumer’s perspective, many will continue to read news stories via websites and social media. But Myanmar consumers also enjoy reading the news in print, and so a loss in sales will see further falls in revenue for many publications.
Min Maw, who sells newspapers from his corner shop on Sanchaung Road, said that he will suffer financially due to the temporary shutdown. Many of his local consumers purchase newspapers with advanced payments, and so Min Maw is considering repaying their subscriptions.
“These 14 days are a loss for us,” Min Maw said.
Many shop owners are reluctant to refund customers, and are considering offering specials on the existing papers. The only publication in print at the moment is Daily Eleven, which is expected to overtake the sales of the other publications.
“They will read it, as people are eager to get the newspaper. We lost around half of our newspaper revenue this week,” said a shop owner on Pyapon Street in Sanchaung.
No matter how powerful social media and television are, there is still a class of people in Burma who enjoy breakfast or a cup of tea with newspapers.
Daw Mya Mya Win, who used to read the print newspaper every morning, said that upon hearing that the newspapers had stopped, people caused a commotion in the shop. Many were surprised and upset.
“When my favorite newspaper stopped, I felt bad,” said Daw Mya Mya Win, who lives at Yuzana Garden City.
Daw Mya Mya Win is 72, is has a daily subscription to the Standard Time Daily. Currently she has to make do with news posted and shared on Facebook.
Myanmar has a long tradition of print media. In the early 1960s Yangon in particular was home to widest range of newspapers on the continent, with publications being printed in English, Burmese, Hindi, Gujarati, Kachin and Chinese.
Myanmar consumers can be quite old-fashioned, and even with the massive adoption of Facebook in recent years, people can be see sitting out on the streets and on balconies reading the printed news.
“Newspapers aren’t always perfect, but they are more reliable than social media. Now I feel like I’m missing out on what’s happening in the world,” Mazin Mar Phyo, a resident of Sanchaung, said.
Most newspapers expect to be back in print when the 14-day stay-at-home order has been lifted. However, since the rate of infection is still high, the order may be extended.