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Myanmar opening airwaves to more voices with new channels

Myanmar is bringing the tide of democratisation to its airwaves, adding new free-to-air channels and opening the country to more news and entertainment choices.

Starting as early as next year, five new digital channels will broadcast free-to-air programs by using the facilities belonging to state-owned broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV). The channels’ “content providers,” so called because they lack their own broadcasting equipment, will control the makeup of their own programming. Under the country’s previous military rule, independent TV news was rare. One of the new channels will air content from DVB Multimedia Group, a formerly “underground” broadcaster set up in Norway by people who fled Myanmar’s military regime.

Two state networks, MRTV, under the Information Ministry, and military-run Myawaddy, used to command the country’s airwaves. Commercial broadcasting began in the 2000s, with Skynet, under the major local conglomerate Shwe Than Lwin group, and media company Forever Group launching channels in partnership with MRTV.

The addition of five new channels will help bring Myanmar a more diverse media, the bedrock of democracy. The government received 42 responses when it began taking applicants for content providers last fall, and whittled the list down to five finalists in April. Those five run the gamut from online media and big-business-affiliated enterprises to communication equipment companies.