Myanmar regime mouthpiece seeks private partner

YANGON (AFP) - The New Light of Myanmar, the fiery mouthpiece of the former junta, is seeking a private partner as the country's reformist government loosens its grip on state media, an official said on Wednesday.

While details remain vague, the move raises the possibility that the government could cede at least some editorial control over the English-language daily, which for years railed against hostile opposition and foreign forces.

"We have agreed with the (information) ministry to invite interested persons for the tender of running the New Light of Myanmar English version," a member of the Public Service Media Governing Body told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"It will not be possible for the ministry to run a daily paper efficiently in terms of human resources. We could expect it to become a quality paper," said the member of the body, set up in October when Myanmar's three state newspapers announced a plan to transform into "public service media".

The New Light has already toned down its rhetoric considerably since decades of military rule ended in early 2011.

Gone are the old slogans lambasting foreign media such as the BBC for "killer broadcasts" and "sowing hatred", along with phrases such as "Anarchy begets anarchy, not democracy".

Instead the publication now includes copious amounts of Hollywood gossip.

The Myanmar Times weekly, which has voiced hopes of going daily, is interested in teaming up with the New Light, according to its co-founder, Australian Ross Dunkley.

"It's a great opportunity at this moment to help reshape the state press in this country," he said.

Since taking office last year, President Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic moves in Myanmar such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

In August the regime announced the end of pre-publication censorship, previously applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales. Private journals will also be allowed to publish daily from April 1.

Thanks to the "dramatic changes", Myanmar rose to 151st out of 179 in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, an improvement of 18 places, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.