INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES

 
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS
in transition: a case
study from myanmar
How to inform, empower, and impact communities
Mon State, Myanmar Pilot Study
Part One: Research Findings
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT THE AUTHORS                                              ABOUT THE RESEARCH TEAM                                              executive summary
Andrew Wasuwongse is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins           Established in 1995, Myanmar Survey Research (MSR)
University’s School of Advanced International Studies in       is a market and social research company based in
Washington, DC. He holds a master’s degree in International    Yangon, Myanmar. MSR has produced over 650
Relations and International Economics, with a concentration    research reports in the fields of social, market, and
in Southeast Asia Studies. While a research assistant for      environmental research over the past 16 years for UN
the SAIS Burma Study Group, he supported visits by three       agencies, INGOs, and business organizations.
Burmese government delegations to Washington, DC,
including officials from Myanmar’s Union Parliament,           ABOUT INTERNEWS in MYANMAR
Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Industry. He has worked
as a consultant for World Vision Myanmar, where he led an      Internews is an international nonprofit organization whose
assessment of education programs in six regions across         mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people
Myanmar, and has served as an English teacher in Kachin        the news and information they need, the ability to connect
State, Myanmar, and in Thailand on the Thai-Myanmar border.    and the means to make their voices heard. Internews
He speaks Thai and Burmese.                                    provides communities with the resources to produce local
                                                               news and information with integrity and independence.
Alison Campbell is currently Internews’ Senior Director        With global expertise and reach, Internews trains both media
for Global Initiatives based in Washington, DC, overseeing     professionals and citizen journalists, introduces innovative
Internews’ environmental, health and humanitarian              media solutions, increases coverage of vital issues and helps
programs. She recently relocated to the US from Asia,          establish policies needed for open access to information.
where she founded Internews Burma project in 2001, started
the Internews Burma Journalism School and has been             The Internews Burma project opened its doors in January 2001
                                                               and has worked for the last 14 years to strengthen the capacity

                                                                                                                                    M
deeply involved in the recent exciting developments in the
media scene in Burma/Myanmar over the last few years.          of Burmese media outlets both inside the country and within                  yanmar’s recent relaxing of political,                       The report draws from quantitative and qualitative
With a background in both journalism and humanitarian          the exiled and international Burmese media community. Over                                                                                research commissioned by the Internews Center for
                                                               the years Internews has provided comprehensive support                       economic, and social restrictions has
relief, she specializes in the design and troubleshooting
                                                                                                                                                                                                         Innovation & Learning (the Center) from December 16,
of media projects in conflict, post conflict, peace building   for Burmese and ethnic language publications, websites,                      provided a unique opportunity to conduct
and other transitional environments. Alison has worked         bloggers, broadcasters, editors, managers and publishers.                                                                                 2012 to January 5, 2013 in Mon State, Myanmar. The
                                                               This support includes training and mentoring in reporting on
                                                                                                                                    research in Myanmar’s ethnic states. This report on                  research sampled respondents from across Mon State,
in various capacities for Internews over the last 15 years,
most recently as Regional Manager for Africa Programs          environment, human rights, elections, gender, policy issues,         Mon State’s information ecosystem is the first in a                  and combines quantitative data from a 500 household
overseeing projects in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda,       media management, media law, small grants and technical
                                                                                                                                    planned series of studies into the demographic, news                 survey covering urban, rural, non-conflict, and former
Uganda and South Sudan. She also established the               support for publishing and production. As part of this program,                                                                           conflict areas, with qualitative data from 12 focus
Internews program at the International Criminal Tribunal for   Internews operated the first in-residence journalism school          media, and information dynamics that characterize
                                                                                                                                                                                                         group discussions and 24 key informant interviews in
Rwanda, providing a foundation for the important work that     for Burmese and ethnic reporters in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The        Mon State as well as Myanmar’s six other ethnic
Internews still does in Rwanda. Before joining Internews,      school trained hundreds of journalists and media professionals,                                                                           both non-conflict and former conflict areas.
Alison worked in radio, print and television newsrooms         and equipped a new generation of Burmese and ethnic media            states—Chin, Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Kayin
in South Africa and in the UK before spending four years       professionals with the skills to work full-time. Internews trained   (Karen), Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan.                                 The research focuses on three themes. Firstly, it
as a press officer for CARE, managing press relations and      and provided technical and financial support to more than                                                                                 identifies and maps the information environment
policy in humanitarian emergencies including Rwanda,           15 different local organizations, both along the border and          An information ecosystem is not a static entity; it is               in Mon State in terms of technology and media
Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Bosnia.        inside the country. These organizations have gone on
                                                                                                                                    by nature constantly evolving and changing. Nor is it                use across urban, rural, non-conflict, and former
                                                               to play leading roles in disseminating quality news and
                                                               information about Burma to the world and to the Burmese              a discrete form; it can be defined at many levels, from              conflict geographic areas. Secondly, the flow of news
cover photo                                                    population alike. Internews’ work in Myanmar continues               global to national to community to interest-based                    and information is examined to see how individuals
                                                               today, and has expanded beyond support for traditional               groupings within communities. Any examination of                     receive information and then make decisions about
Man reads journal and listens to radio                         media to include the country’s first-ever hackathon in               an information ecosystem goes beyond traditional                     sharing it with others. Thirdly, the report examines
Kyaik Hto - Moke Ka Mawt Village.                              2014, which brought together 76 of the country’s most                audience research on media access and consumption;                   the dynamics underlying the trust and influence of
                                                               talented young developers, designers and entrepreneurs.
                                                                                                                                    it adds considerations of information needs and                      news and information among individuals in Mon
                                                               www.internews.org                                                    information creation and distribution as fluid systems               State.
                                                                                                                                    that adapt and regenerate according to the broader
                                                                                                                                    developmental challenges and needs of a given
                                                                                                                                    community.

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                                                                                                                                       INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                   how to inform, empower, and impact communities

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            PART ONE: RESE ARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
executive summary

                                             despite the high cost of mobile access in                                        In this study, news and information sources that are                 It is true to say that media content and media and
                                                                                                                              considered trusted—with trustworthiness defined in                   information channels will always be primary factors
                                             Myanmar at the time of this research,                                            terms of a source’s accuracy and reliability—tended                  of supply in any information ecosystem. However, it is
                                             nearly half of all urban Mon State                                               strongly to be the sources that were best-known and                  necessary to guard against drawing conclusions about
                                             respondents have a mobile phone                                                  familiar to respondents. Few people indeed trust what                media access and “openness” based on a “production
                                                                                                                              they are not familiar with. As a result, friends and family          + distribution = better informed citizenry” model
                                                                                                                              ranked highest for trust, but perhaps surprisingly, so did           that cannot adequately account for the quality of the
                                                                                                                              state-owned media, such as MRTV (jointly-operated                    information available, or flow, trust and uptake factors
                                                                                                                              with the private Forever Group Ltd.) and Nay Pyi                     in complex environments.
There can be few places left in the world where almost            The research indicates that, despite the high cost of       Daw Myanmar Radio National Service (Nay Pyi Daw
half the population does not know what the internet is.           mobile access in Myanmar at the time of this research,      Myanma Ah-Than). Overall, however, people in Mon                     In Myanmar today there exists the risk that under
The Mon State pilot research has particular value in              nearly half of all urban Mon State respondents have         State remain generally skeptical of the news they hear,              the guise of increased media access, the formerly
attempting to describe the information ecosystem of a             a mobile phone. This penetration would have been            a habit held-over from a time when information sources               “information dark” ecosystems which prevailed
target community situated at an unprecedented tipping             unthinkable just a few years ago. Nevertheless,             were few and rumors abundant. Most people regularly                  across much of the country under military rule
point in the history of a closed society. Key structural          widespread lack of electricity continues to significantly   validate the news and information they hear against                  may be seamlessly replaced with “information lite”
factors (governance, technology, economy) are                     hamper full mobile phone usage. Furthermore, only           other sources, never fully trusting any source completely.           ecosystems in which unsophisticated media audiences
changing suddenly, simultaneously exerting profound               2% of mobile phone users in Mon State use their                                                                                  consume primarily entertainment and “managed”
change in the ways in which citizens access and use               phones to access the Internet. In the urban areas of        Findings around the reach and impact of formerly                     news content. This sleight of hand would replicate
information. Whilst experience drawn from other                   Mon State, TV has replaced radio as the main source         exiled (pro-democracy) media indicated little                        the information ecosystems of the “disciplined
political transitions may be indicative of future trends          of news and information. However in rural locations,        awareness of exiled print media. However, there is a                 democracies” of Singapore, Malaysia and China - to
in Myanmar, there has rarely been an opportunity to               qualitative interviews indicated that TV is mainly used     solid recognition of shortwave international Burmese                 which Myanmar aspires - by (at best) doing nothing
track and chart such sudden and extreme change, and               as an entertainment medium, not to access news and          language services, and strikingly high recognition for               to foster the development of an informed citizenry
establish a baseline before social media and other forces         information. However, a large proportion of Mon State       Democratic Voice of Burma TV.                                        and (at worst) perpetuating state influence over the
disrupt and transform the information environment.                residents do not watch TV at all. Nearly half of the                                                                             architecture of public information and discourse.
                                                                  total sample said they had never watched TV (46%).          Serious consideration needs to be given to the more
Some of the key findings of this report are consistent                                                                        nuanced, and perhaps less rosy outlook brought to                    For those who wish to see an increase in both the
with the current image of Myanmar opening its doors               In rural and former conflict areas, radio is the most       the surface by the ecosystem research responses                      quantity and quality of content feeding into local
and airwaves to a brave new influx of information.                common source. Once information enters a community          on trust. Not only did state-owned radio show up                     information ecosystems as a way of enhancing
More frequently there emerges a mixed picture as to               however, its flow is overwhelmingly face-to-face sharing    as significantly better recognized and trusted than                  development or democracy/governance goals, it will
access, and some thought-provoking findings around                through word of mouth. Moreover, this information flow      the international stations, but qualitative research                 be important to temper runaway excitement about
trust and flow of information.                                    largely takes place in the home (78% of respondents),       revealed mixed or decreased trust in foreign news                    Myanmar’s “opening” with an understanding of some
                                                                  and to immediate friends and family. Indeed, only           sources. This is primarily due to strong perceptions                 of the constraints and idiosyncrasies in the country’s
                                                                  28% of respondents saw themselves as a source of            among some respondents of biased reporting on the                    national and local information ecosystems. It is the
                                                                  news for the greater community, indicating that most        conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine                    contention of this paper that a better understanding
                                                                  information exchange tends to stay close to home.           State by foreign news media.                                         of the information ecosystem of any given community
                                                                                                                                                                                                   or population will be helpful in developing holistic
                                                                                                                                                                                                   strategies that harness dynamics in that ecosystem to
                                                                                                                                                                                                   improve the chances of information actually reaching
                                                                                                                                                                                                   its destination.

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INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar   how to inform, empower, and impact communities                 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                    how to inform, empower, and impact communities

part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                           PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                                                ABOUT INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS

executive summary	                                                 1      Most Trusted Broadcaster:
                                                                          State Television MRTV                         30

ABOUT INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS                                       5      Radio - Most Trusted Source
                                                                          for Information In Former Conflict Areas      30
    Eight Critical Dimensions                                             International Radio - Perceived Bias
    of Information Ecosystems	                                     6      In Coverage Of Conflict In Rakhine State      32

ABOUT THE RESEARCH                                                 8      Print – the need
                                                                          for local language publications	              34
    Relevance of Mon State Study                                       information flows	                               36
    to Myanmar as a whole                                         11
    From Burma to Myanmar:                                                Trust and Verification –
    Information Ecosystems at Work                                12      No Single Source Is 100% Trusted              38
    Information Ecosystems under Military Rule 13                         INFORMATION FLOW MAPPING	                     41
    Control and Propaganda                                        13      INFORMATION FLOWS IN ACTION – CASE STUDIES    41

                                                                                                                             A
    Alternative Information Supply                                        CASE STUDY 1: EARTHQUAKE IN SANGAING
    as a Pro Democracy Tactic                                     14                                                                 t the heart of the Internews Center for                      An information ecosystem is not a static entity; it is
                                                                          AND MANDALAY REGIONS, NOVEMBER 2012           42
    New Perspectives: Supply vs Consumption                       15                                                                 Innovation & Learning’s work is the vision                   by nature constantly evolving and changing. Nor is
                                                                          CASE STUDY 2: U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK                                                                                     it a discrete form; it can be defined at many levels,
    Ecosystems                                                            OBAMA’S VISIT TO MYANMAR, NOVEMBER 2012       44           that healthy information ecosystems are a
    in Political Transition                                       16                                                                                                                              from global to interest-based groupings within
                                                                          CASE STUDY 3: COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN RAKHINE         root solution to furthering human progress. The                      communities. Any examination of an information
    Myanmar Media Landscape 2012-2014                             16      STATE, JUNE – DECEMBER 2012                46
    Increased Access Does
                                                                                                                             term Information Ecosystems refers to a loose,                       ecosystem looks at information needs, creation and
    Not Necessarily Mean Better Informed                          17   conclusions & recommendations	                   48
                                                                                                                             dynamic configuration of different sources, flows,                   distribution as fluid systems that adapt and regenerate
    How Information Permeates:                                                                                                                                                                    according to the challenges of a given situation.
                                                                          Conclusion                                    49   producers, consumers, and sharers of information
    trust, need, flow and exchange                                18
                                                                          LESSONS LEARNED	                              50   interacting within a defined community or space.                     More formally, the Internews Center for Innovation &
findings	                                                         19
                                                                       abbreviations and glossary	                      52   For anyone interested in improving information                       Learning (hereafter referred to as the Center) currently
    Use of Media and Technology: Key Findings	                    21                                                         access, flow and uptake in target communities,                       defines an information ecosystem as follows:
    Information Flows: Key Findings	                                      TIMELINE 2012-2014                            53
                                                                  21                                                         an understanding of Information Ecosystems are
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Information ecosystems are complex adaptive
    Understanding Trust                                                appendix 1: research design	                     54   increasingly recognized as being key to the design
    And Influence: Key Findings	                                  22                                                                                                                              systems that include information infrastructure,
                                                                          Research Objectives	                          54   of appropriate and effective interventions.                          tools, media, producers, consumers, and sharers.
    Interpreting the Key Findings	                                22
                                                                          Methodology and Approach                      54
                                                                                                                                                                                                  They are complexes of dynamic social relationships;
    Electricity Availability
    Limits Use of Technology                                      24
                                                                                                                             Borrowed from environmental studies, the term                        information moves and transforms in flows. Through
                                                                                                                             “information ecosystem” is used to describe how                      information ecosystems, we can see information as a
    Mobile – Significant Expansion Despite Cost                   25
                                                                                                                             local communities exist and evolve within particular                 master resource, like energy, the lack of which makes
    Internet Awareness Low -                                                                                                 information and communication systems. Within these                  everything else more difficult.
    Half the Population of Mon State
    Doesn’t Know What The Internet Is	                            27                                                         systems, different types of news and information may
                                                                                                                             be received from outside then passed on to others—
    SMS and Internet Penetration – Complicated
    by Illiteracy and Lack of Written Language 28                                                                            through word of mouth, key community members,
                                                                                                                             phone, the Internet, and the like. An examination of
    Television – Overtaking radio in Urban Mon
    State But Half of Mon State Residents Have                                                                               an information ecosystem looks at the flow, trust, use
    Never Watched                                                 28                                                         and impact of news and information.

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INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar        how to inform, empower, and impact communities           INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                    how to inform, empower, and impact communities

part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                          PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS

                                                                                                                                                                                Through information ecosystems,
    Eight Critical Dimensions                                                                                                                                                   we can see information as a master
    of Information Ecosystems                                                                                                                                                   resource, like energy, the lack of
                                                                                                                                                                                which makes everything more difficult.
    1. Information needs: Are they known to                       5. Use: What does the audience / users do with
       information producers? Are the needs of all                     the information? Does information facilitate civic
       groups being served? Populations’ information                   engagement?
       needs are diverse and changing.
                                                                  6. Impact of information: How has information
    2. Information landscape: What are the physical                    enabled or constrained individual and community
       and institutional infrastructures that support                  opportunity, health, and economic development?
       information production and flow? What are the                   How does the community organize around
       characteristics of the information providers?                   different types of information? (How) has
       What are the intermediary organizations: media,                 information informed community planning and
       government, civic? Are they robustly equipped to                action?
       verify, filter, sort, and disseminate information?
                                                                  7. Social trust: How do networks of trust
    3. Production and movement: Are a variety of                       influence the flow and use of information? How
       types of information available (e.g. government                 is trust built around information? Where are the
       services, community news)? Who are the                          disruptions in trust tied to information (or its            In late 2012, the Center started to experiment                       Despite the challenges of implementing this research,
       producers of information and the owners of the                  lack)? What are the challenges in building trust            with new methods to understand the information                       using and adapting techniques from the field of
       means of production and dissemination? What is                  around information flows?                                   dynamics of communities, particularly those in                       design and ethnographic research proved an excellent
       the role of word of mouth, social media, bulletin                                                                           restrictive environments where the usual quantitative                approach to understanding from the ground-level the
       boards? (How) are rapid changes in internet and            8. Influencers: Who are the people, organizations,               and qualitative research approaches (surveying,                      complexities of information access and use in areas of
       mobile media impacting the flow of information?                 and institutions that influence how information             depth interviews, focus groups etc.) have inherent                   the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. This approach proved
       What types of content are available and to whom?                flows? Who builds trust and how? How do points              limitations (logistics, security, accuracy).     The                 capable not only of capturing the expected outputs of
       How does our perspective on these dynamics shift                of influence shift over time, especially during             potential of ethnographic and design research to                     conventional research approaches, but also revealed
       if information flows are framed as storytelling?                disruption?14                                               reveal the intricacies of human experiences and                      subtle but significant nuances of the information
                                                                                                                                   relationships within highly complex systems in                       environment, notably those related to trust, influence
    4. Dynamic of access: What is the environment                                                                                  support of the creation of appropriate, innovation                   and adaptive behaviors using new technologies. 15
       in which information flows (e.g. political, cultural,                                                                       solutions clearly appeared as a potentially valuable
       time, cost, and other factors)? How easy is it for                                                                          approach for this study. Working alongside Reboot,                   Based on the work conducted in Pakistan, the Center
       residents to access, find, use, and share different                                                                         a social enterprise supporting improved global                       turned to focus on the unique opportunity afforded
       types of information? What are the barriers to                                                                              governance and development, the Center implemented                   by the rapid removal of political, economic, and social
       participation? What about the broader structures                                                                            a groundbreaking study investigating the information                 restrictions in Myanmar, to conduct research on the
       that influence access: governance, legal, political,                                                                        ecosystems in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas.                               flow of news and information in this previously tightly
       economic, and infrastructural factors affecting                                                                                                                                                  controlled country, particularly the ethnic states.
       access?
                                                                  14    Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, “Information
                                                                        Ecosystems Literature Review” (2014).                                                                                           15   Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, “Trust, Influence,
                                                                                                                                                                                                             and Connectivity – Understanding Information Ecosystems in
                                                                                                                                                                                                             Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. A Design Research Approach” (2013).

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INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar    how to inform, empower, and impact communities                     INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                      how to inform, empower, and impact communities

part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                                    PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT THE RESEARCH

                                                                                                                                   However, no surveys to date can claim to present                     specifically, the pilot aimed to capture an ecosystem
                                                                                                                                   either comprehensive or granular data that allows for                at a particular point in time, poised at the brink of
                                                                                                                                   deep-dive analysis or comparative explorations of the                profound change at the local and national level. Mon
                                                                                                                                   different ways in which different population groups                  State is, after all, a local information ecosystem within
                                                                                                                                   across Myanmar access and exchange information.                      a national one, both of them dynamic. The nature of
                                                                                                                                   Little to no work has yet been done on looking at                    each and the convergent/divergent dynamics between
                                                                                                                                   what factors contribute to differentiated information                them are fascinating in and of themselves, especially
                                                                                                                                   flows in various parts of the country, and therefore                 when their current and future manifestations are
                                                                                                                                   little is understood about how best to ensure that                   considered in the light of the last half-century
                                                                                                                                   people access information that could be useful to                    of Burma’s history. However the real utility and
                                                                                                                                   them in their lives. Up until very recently, it has                  value of the ecosystem research perspective will be
                                                                                                                                   been impossible to reach many of those areas where                   demonstrated over time, when repeat surveys and
                                                                                                                                   citizen access to information and media consumption                  improvements to methodology and analysis will prove

M
                                                                                                                                   has long been a mystery – notably the conflict areas.                increasingly capable of identifying and understanding
          edia access and consumption surveys have                      would-be researchers to guard against assumptions          Some of these are still inaccessible today, and even                 the relationships between the multiplicity of factors
          been conducted infrequently in Myanmar                        about information needs, especially in situations          in the medium term future are likely to retain many                  that constitute an information ecosystem.
          over the last decades. In one survey                          where research is being used to inform planning            of the idiosyncratic dynamics described above for
                                                                                                                                   information ecosystems associated with prolonged                     The report draws from quantitative and qualitative
conducted clandestinely in 1999 for internal use by                     for development or democracy and governance
                                                                                                                                   conflict, politicization, militarization, ethnic identity            research commissioned by the Internews Center for
one of the international broadcasters, respondents                      interventions.                                             issues, underdevelopment, fear and mistrust of                       Innovation & Learning (the Center) from December
listed their top information needs as religious and                                                                                government.                                                          16, 2012 to January 5, 2013 in Mon State, Myanmar.
health information, with news featuring low on the                      Surveys by InterMedia and Gallup for the Broadcasting                                                                           The research sampled respondents from across Mon
                                                                        Board of Governors (BBG) have been conducted               An important part of the Center’s exploration into                   State, and combines quantitative data from a 500
list of preferences.16 This finding seemed counter-
                                                                        more regularly in the last 5 years, concerned largely      understanding information ecosystems is developing                   household survey covering urban, rural, non-conflict,
intuitive to western pro-democracy expectations                         with assessing the reach and listenership of Voice of      the tools and capacities to capture these dynamics in a              and former conflict areas, with qualitative data from 12
that all the citizens of Burma were hungry primarily                    America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) shortwave          rigorous, inclusive way. As a pilot study, the research in           focus group discussions, 24 key informant interviews
for political news, and led researchers to warn                         radio and TV services. For many years these services,      Mon State was primarily intended to provide a baseline               and 12 photography-centered observations in both
that much of the information they gathered was                          with the BBC World Service and the Democratic Voice        for the evolution of media and information systems                   non-conflict and former conflict areas. In-country
                                                                        of Burma, were assumed to be a primary source of           in the next months and years. However, another                       research was carried out through the services of field
probably unreliable as respondents would have been                      independent news and information for Burmese               key objective was to support the iterative process of                contractor Myanmar Survey Research (MSR).17
reluctant to speak openly about their information                       citizens, especially those in the conflict-affected        designing appropriate tools and methods to provide
needs and consumption habits. In fact much of the                       ethnic states. In recent years the BBG surveys showed      a broad view of the information and communication
research done since then, and right up to today,                        an increase in penetration of satellite TV, latterly FM    environment alongside a level of granularity that
                                                                        radio, and apparently robust audiences for all the         speaks to the experience of individuals and reveals the
indicates that religious and health information does                    international services. In 2012 it noted many of the key   complex nuances of trust, influence and information
in fact regularly rank highly in needs and listening                    media consumption trends present in the Internews          flows.
habits of many citizens of Myanmar, frequently                          research in Mon State.
higher than political news. This story cautions                                                                                    Internews research in Mon State was carried out
                                                                                                                                   primarily to trial a methodology capable of reflecting
                                                                                                                                   an information ecosystem rather than just patterns
16    The survey findings contain proprietary information and are not                                                                                                                                   17   For details of the research and sample design, see Appendix Two
      publicly available.                                                                                                          of media dissemination and consumption. More                              – Research Design.

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 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar        how to inform, empower, and impact communities                INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                      how to inform, empower, and impact communities

 part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                                   PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT the research - MAP
                                                                                                        18

                                 BAGO      KAYIN
          KYAIKTO                                                BILIN
                                                        18,409            146,633
     31,870            131.897                                                                                          India
                                                                                                                                                                Relevance of Mon State Study to Myanmar as a whole
                       MAP
                                          18                                                                                                  China

                                                                                                                                                Laos            Present day Mon State was created in 1974. Mon State                            state of Monland. In 1948, a Mon separatist movement
                                                                     THATON                                                                                     is an administrative division of Myanmar. With a land                           began under the banner of the Mon Peoples Front
                                                              55.680              196,388                                                                       area of approximately 12,200km2, it is located between                          (MPF) and fighting broke out, just as other similar
                                                                                                                                          Thailand              Kayin State on the east and by the Andaman Sea on the                           ethnic rebellions were developing across the country.
                                                                                                                                                                West and shares a short border with Thailand to the
 17°N

                                                                                                                                                                Southeast. The state capital is Mawlamyaing.19                                  By 1958, MPF separatists took up an offer of amnesty
                            Gulf of
                                                                                   MAWLAMYINE                                                                                                                                                   and accepted a ceasefire agreement. However, a
 YANGON                    Martaban                                             208,089        69,160                                                           In the absence of official data, the population of Mon                          new faction, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) took
                                                                                                                                                                State was estimated to be 3,193,000 in 2012. 20 The                             leadership of the armed resistance soon after. The
                                                                                                                                                                majority of this population are ethnic Mon who also                             NMSP and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation
                          PAUNG                                                                                                                                 account for 2 percent of the population of Myanmar.21                           Army (MNLA), continued armed struggle in Mon State
                 34,413             214,323                                                                                                                     In Mon State there is a large number of ethnic Bamar,                           against the Myanmar military government for the next
                                                                                                  KYAIKMARAW                                THAILAND            as well as members of the Kayin and Pa-O ethnic                                 40 years, from their base in the Ye river valley, near the
                                                                                               14,611              198,786                                      groups and a small, dwindling Anglo-Burmese                                     Thai-Myanmar border.
                                                                                                                                                                community. Many of these groups are isolated and
                                                                                                                                                                do not understand or speak Burmese. There is a Thai                             Following the fall of NMSP headquarters to the Burmese
                                    CHAUNGZON
                                                                                                                                                                Community in Kyaikkami. The majority of people                                  Army in 1990, ceasefire negotiations between the
                                 6,223           151,209
                                                                                                              MUDON                                             are Buddhist. 22 Mon has three primary dialects, all                            government and the NMSP took place from 1993 until
                                                                                                    53,018             160,453                                  mutually intelligible and area dependent – Central, Ye                          1995. The NMSP signed a ceasefire with the military
                                                                                                                                                                and Bago.                                                                       regime in 1995, which resulted in initial economic
        Legend                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  assistance from the central government, but no political
        Population Density
                                                                                                                                                                Since independence in 1948, Myanmar has foremost                                negotiations.
        (person/sq.km)
                                                                                          THANBYUZAYAT                                                          faced a challenge of national unity. In Mon State, a
               < 100
                                                                                     32,335              137,615                                                Mon nationalist movement arose shortly after the end                            The ceasefire continued until 2010 when it broke down
               100 - 200                                                                                                                                        of World War II, calling for an independent sovereign                           over refusal by the NMSP (along with other ethnic
               200 - 400                                                                                                                                                                                                                        minority armed groups across Myanmar) to surrender
                                                                                                                                 · Map ID: MIMU841v03
                                         Andaman Sea                                                                             · Creation Date:               19    “Mon State,” Wikipedia,                                                   control of its armed forces to the central government
               400 - 1000                                                                                                          6 February 2013.A3                 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mon_state (August 12, 2014).
                                                                                                                                 · Projection/Datum:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and transform into a Border Guard Force under Burmese
               1000 - 1984                                                                                                                                      20    “Myanmar,” City Population,
                                                                                                                                   Geographic/WGS84                                                                                             Army control. A new ceasefire agreement was reached
                                                                                                             YE                  · Data Sources :                     http://www.citypopulation.de/Myanmar.html (August 12, 2014).

        NUMBER OF PERSON                                                                       36,027              221,068         Population - HMIS (2011),    21     “Briefing: Myanmar’s ethnic problems,”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                in February 2012, however, with no fighting occurring
                                                                                                                                   Ministry of Health,
                                                                                                                                 · Boundaries - WFP/MIMU
                                                                                                                                                                      IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis,                                      between the NMSP and the Burmese Army during the
                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.irinnews.org/report/95195/briefing-myanmar-s-ethnic-problems
                                                                                                                                 · Base Map - MIMU                    (August 12, 2014).                                                        interim.
                                                                                                                                 info.mimu@undp.org
                                                                                                                                 www.themimu.info               22    “Mon people,” Wikipedia,
        URBAN       RURAL                                                       TANINTHARYI                                                                           http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mon_people (August 12, 2014).

18        MIMU Myanmar Information Management Unit, http://www.themimu.info/.

 10                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            11
     INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                how to inform, empower, and impact communities                             INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                                     how to inform, empower, and impact communities

     part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT the research

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         arrest, torture, imprisonment or extra judicial killings
                                                                                                                                    Information Ecosystems                                                               for “crimes” of meeting, expressing opinions and
                                                                                                                                    under Military Rule                                                                  imparting or exchanging news and information in any
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         way. Newspaper editors played cat-and-mouse games
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         with their censors on the Press Scrutiny Board, finding
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         subtle and convoluted ways to signal resistance or insert
                                                                                                                                    Control and Propaganda                                                               sensitive topics into their articles, to the extent that
                                                                                                                                    Under a succession of brutal and secretive military                                  generations of Burmese talk about their skill in “reading
                                                                                                                                    regimes, Burma was rendered one of the most isolated                                 between the lines.”
                                                                                                                                    countries in the world. With western sanctions in place,
                                                                                                                                    limited access for tourists and draconian restrictions                               In parallel to strategies for information control,
                                                                                                                                    on the activities of civil society and foreign NGOs,                                 the regime in Burma devoted significant effort to
                                                                                                                                    there were only narrow windows into the daily lives of                               disseminating propaganda not only through its
                                                                                                                                    Burmese and ethnic citizens. These were provided by                                  broadcast channels and state newspapers but also on
                                                                                                                                    Burmese and international pro-democracy and human                                    billboards in public places, at state events and other
                                                                                                                                    rights activists and journalists operating covertly or                               citizen gatherings across the country. The signature
                                                                                                                                    cross-border to gather and disseminate to the world                                  messages of the regime promoted the military as the
                                                                                                                                    information on the state of the country.                                             protectors of the people and guardians of a “united
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Burma,” and warned against the toxic influences of
                                                                                                                                    Amongst the litany of human rights abuses reported                                   foreigners and other agents of destabilization intent
Villagers watching movies in video theater - Kyaikhto, Mokekamaw Village                                                            during these dark decades, there ran an important                                    on tearing the nation apart. The overwrought and
                                                                                                                                    theme that is generally consistent across all despotic                               surreal style of the propaganda became something of
                                                                           communicating with Myanmar citizens. The reasons         regimes, that of restrictions on access to and exchange                              a joke amongst educated pro-democracy Burmese and
From Burma                                                                 range from the drive to open commercial markets          of information amongst citizens. This was evidenced                                  westerners (as North Korea’s propaganda is today).
to Myanmar: Information                                                    to the promotion of governance and social and            most clearly in the (now infamous) media regulatory                                  However, the message of the state and the army as a
                                                                           economic development. This holds especially true         environment that ensured state monopoly of                                           protector of the people against insidious foreign forces
Ecosystems at Work                                                         for the remotest, least developed and chronically        broadcast media and entrenched tight control of print                                is one that has nationalistic resonance with Burmese
                                                                           conflict-affected ethnic minority areas that will        media through licensing and legal edicts hostile to the                              going back to colonial times. While it is to be expected
                                                                           increasingly become the focus of interest for national   principles and practice of independent journalism.                                   that this kind of propaganda would have had little
Until recently, few might have predicted the political,                    and state government, the international development      Burma languished for decades at the bottom of media                                  traction in conflict-affected ethnic areas, it cannot
social and economic developments now taking place                          community, corporate investors and resource hungry       freedom indexes.23                                                                   be assumed that it was wholly ineffective, or even
in Myanmar. For the first time in 50 years, Myanmar’s                      opportunists of all stripes. Yet in a country where                                                                                           unwelcome to many Burmese who spent their whole
military has eased its total control of the state, allowing                control and manipulation of information was for          There exists a wealth of documentation on the                                        lives without access to alternative information.
a quasi-civilian government and the participation of                       so many years a central and fundamentally twisted        suppression of media freedom and access to information
opposition political parties in parliament. Political                      feature of the relationship between state and citizen,   in the country. All citizens, but especially those in                                For the purposes of understanding the significance of
prisoners have been released, ceasefire agreements                         and between citizens themselves, no straightforward      the minority ethnic states, lived in fear of arbitrary                               information ecosystems in Myanmar, it is important
signed with rebel ethnic groups, and media censorship                      assumptions can (or should) be made about the ways                                                                                            to note that draconian laws governing media access
has significantly eased.                                                   in which people will access and utilize information in   23     According to Freedom House, in 2013 Myanmar continued to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         and press freedoms, and the heavyweight propaganda
                                                                           the rapidly morphing information ecosystems of the              be classified as “Not Free.” Since 2005, the Press Freedom score
                                                                                                                                           consistently rated in the mid to high 90’s, falling slightly in 2012
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         environment, were only a part of the country’s
The recent quasi-democratization of the country has                        future.                                                         to 85 and 72 in 2013. “Freedom of the Press,” Freedom House.                  overall information ecosystem. Under notorious
                                                                                                                                           http://www.freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-press#.UzRDsK1dVk4 (August
created rapidly intensifying interest from a multitude                                                                                     12, 2014).                                                                    Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt, the reach
of actors (local and international) in engaging and
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 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar           how to inform, empower, and impact communities                INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                                  how to inform, empower, and impact communities

 part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                                                PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT the research

                                             AS activists and journalists strove                                              the Open Society Institute, the National Endowment                   would share their content by word of mouth. In
                                                                                                                              for Democracy and others. Through the late 90s and                   absence of the ability to conduct conventional audience
                                             to source information and expose it to                                           through the 2000s, thousands of small newspapers                     research, the effort to provide people in Burma
                                             international attention, an enormous                                             in Burmese and ethnic languages were produced and                    with independent information started to gear itself
                                             effort was expended on maintaining                                               moved through covert networks across the border.                     around more nuanced notions about the information
                                                                                                                                                                                                   ecosystems that lay on the other side of the border. It
                                             a flow of information into the country                                           This supply effort was considered an important aspect                was recognized, for instance, that in each ethnic state,
                                                                                                                              of the pro-democracy struggle, based largely on pro-                 and even in different parts of each ethnic state, the
                                                                                                                              democratic assumptions about demand, access and                      information arriving in communities through radio
of the state security apparatus was pervasive. His                All these groups weighed in with the intention not          reach inside the country. It presumed that many                      and newspapers would reach and spread amongst
units infiltrated almost every organization in the                only of moderating the impact of propaganda with            people in Burma distrusted state media and hungered                  citizens in uneven ways that would change over time,
country, and maintained networks of spies in almost               independent information, but also to encourage and          for independent news and information about political                 depending on external factors (i.e. balance of power
every neighborhood. These networks relied in turn                 support pro-democracy elements inside the country.          developments (or lack of them) in the country. It was                between the military and the ethnic armies, security,
on local informants who routinely passed along                                                                                next to impossible to conduct any systematic audience                transport, access to electricity and radio sets, and
snippets of information under coercion or to gain                 The tactic of introducing supplies of alternative           surveys in the country, so evidence of the extent to                 even the personalities of key community figures or
favors or protection. Christina Fink’s aptly named                information (or even outright counter-propaganda)           which citizens accessed both shortwave radio signals                 military commanders who might facilitate or obstruct
“Living Silence: Life under Military Rule in Burma”               to the information ecosystems of closed or contested        and publications was anecdotal and patchy, gleaned                   information flows).
describes a society infected with fear and mistrust               territories is as old as the strategy of propaganda         from the distribution networks themselves, and from
that divided even close knit communities, family                  itself. From 1940 onwards, the BBC World Service in         refugees and exiles arriving at the border. The success              The relevance of this background to those seeking to
and friends. Information was both a precious and                  Burmese was a key source of news and information on         of the supply effort had to be estimated primarily as                understand and work with the concept of information
dangerous commodity, closely linked to notions of                 shortwave radio for citizens of Burma, a role that peaked   a quantitative function of production+distribution.                  ecosystems is the way in which environments such
risk and power, traded through formal and informal                in political significance during the student uprisings      Broadcast footprints plus numbers of publications                    as Burma (closed states, restricted environments,
channels invested with a range of trust and attitude              of 1988. During this time citizens in far-flung parts of    coming off the presses were summed up to estimate                    media dark areas, conflict zones etc.) challenge us
factors by different parts of the population. “Living             Burma were made aware that radical dissatisfaction          the extent to which people became better informed                    to think about information dynamics beyond typical
Silence” describes an unusually highly charged and                was being openly expressed in the capital. In the years     about what was going on in their own country. What                   assumptions about (or measurements of) media
multi-faceted information ecosystem.                              that followed, the BBC Burmese service was joined on        was (and still is) less well understood is the extent to             supply and media consumption. It further challenges
                                                                  shortwave by the Voice of America (VOA) Burmese             which these efforts actually reached their intended                  us to consider the fact that the media is frequently not
Alternative Information Supply                                    service and the official “voice of the pro-democracy        audiences and whether the information was useful                     a primary source of information for the majority of
as a Pro Democracy Tactic                                         movement” the Democratic Voice (DVB) of Burma               to those audiences (i.e. did it meet their information               citizens in these kinds of complex closed environments,
At the same time that activists and journalists strove            out of Oslo. In Thailand a plethora of small activist       needs and help them to make decisions relevant to                    and what the implications of that may be for reaching
to source information from inside the secretive state             publications sprang up, some of them products of            their lives?).                                                       people with information that can improve their lives.
and expose it to the radar of international attention,            the information offices of the ethnic armies, many of                                                                            In low tech and low literacy environments, the primary
an enormous amount of effort was expended on                      them intermittently published and of poor quality,          New Perspectives: Supply vs Consumption                              mode of information exchange (flow) is likely to be word
trying to maintain a flow of news and information                 but all aiming (or claiming) to reach people inside         As time went on and the sophistication of the nascent                of mouth from family, friends, community leaders and
into the country. This came from the US, UK,                      Burma. The logistics of doing this were daunting, as        Burma media community in exile grew, questions                       others, a mechanism intrinsically related to circles
Scandinavia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia                the publications had to be hand smuggled across the         arose around factors that might influence the spread of              of trust and subject to a multitude of influences and
and a multitude of actors including the exiled wing of            border, where carriers and readers alike could receive      the information contained in the media disseminated,                 perceptions shaped by other community dynamics.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy                  a mandatory seven year sentence for possession of           including literacy levels, ability of ethnic people
(NLD) party, exiled ethnic leadership, international              this kind of literature. There was no paying market         to read Burmese language, the likelihood that                        One example of this is the extent to which the Burmese
donor governments, civil society organizations,                   for these publications so they relied on international      publications would be passed from hand to hand, and                  army itself became a significant source of information
human rights and media development organizations.                 grant funding and training supplied by Internews,           the expectation that those who read the publications                 for the ethnic communities that it oppressed, not only

14                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              15
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar   how to inform, empower, and impact communities                 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                    how to inform, empower, and impact communities

part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                           PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS IN TRANSITION: A CASE - STUDY FROM MYANMAR HOW TO INFORM, EMPOWER, AND IMPACT COMMUNITIES
ABOUT the research

                                                                                                                                                                               A few years ago, simply displaying a
                                                                   Ecosystems                                                                                                  picture of the opposition politician
                                                                   in Political Transition                                                                                     in a Burmese newspaper would risk
                                                                                                                                                                               arrest and imprisonment
                                                                   Myanmar Media Landscape 2012-2014
                                                                   Myanmar’s media landscape has changed dramatically
                                                                   in the last two years since the 2010 election, the
                                                                   release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and the        particularly by satellite TV services, have expanded the               evolving. In Mon State, Nay Pyi Daw Myanmar Radio
                                                                   commencement of the current government-managed               range of content and programming available within                      broadcasts Mon language programs, which have proved
                                                                   reform process. A few years ago, simply displaying           the country. These range from rich political discussion                popular with many respondents, while MRTV does
                                                                   a picture of the opposition politician in a Burmese          via DVB-Burmese to a variety of entertainment,                         not have the appearance of being government-owned,
                                                                   newspaper or on the streets of Yangon would risk arrest      including popular Burmese and Korean soap operas                       running everything from music and food programming
                                                                   and imprisonment. Foreign news sources such as the           and even Myanmar Idol, a Burmese version of the                        to game shows.
                                                                   BBC and Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Burmese exile             popular music competition.
                                                                   media including the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB),                                                                                For Internet, three providers exist in Myanmar: Red
                                                                   The Irrawaddy, and Mizzima News, were outright               However, despite Myanmar’s expanding media                             Link Communications, Sky Net MPS, and Yatanarpon
                                                                   banned. Today, such restrictions on media access no          choices, most options remain limited to urban centers                  Teleport. All three work under the regulation of state-
                                                                   longer exist. Importantly, pre-publication censorship        and entrenched in old interests. According to a report                 owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications
                                                                   of all media has been abolished. In June 2011, the           from Reporters Without Borders, “There are more                        (MPT), which controls all aspects of Myanmar’s
                                                                   Myanmar government began easing media control by             than 300 newspapers in Burma, of which around 100                      communications sector, including landlines, street
7 Day News Journal - Kyaik Hto - Zay Yar Mon Ward                  allowing non-political newspapers to publish without         are based in and around Rangoon and only about 30                      phone kiosks, and mobile phones. At the current time,
                                                                   first submitting all articles to the Press Scrutiny and      cover the news.”24 Moreover, according to the NLD                      connecting to the Internet outside of Internet cafes
                                                                   Registration Division (PSRD), the Orwellian-sounding         elder statesman Win Tin, “Only 25 percent of the                       is beyond the financial reach of most of Myanmar’s
                                                                   government censorship bureau. By August 2012, the            newspapers are independent, that is to say, entirely                   citizens and the country still has one of the lowest
                                                                   government had announced the end to prior censorship         financed by the private sector. The other 75 percent                   degrees of internet penetration in the world: 1-2%.
                                                                   for all publications, a practice that began in 1964 during   are linked to military leaders.”25
through formal edicts, but counter intuitively, also               the early days of General Ne Win’s military regime.                                                                                 Increased Access Does Not
through formal and less formal relationships that                  Publishers of exiled media, including Mizzima, DVB,          Similarly, in TV and radio, the stations with the                      Necessarily Mean Better Informed
developed between soldiers and citizens in areas where             and Irrawaddy, have now officially entered Myanmar           most extensive reach and popularity remain in the                      It is intuitive to think that an overall increase in the
they lived in close contact for decades. The ethnic                and set up bureaus in Yangon. In April, for the first time   government’s hands—state-run Nay Pyi Daw Myanmar                       supply of media inputs channeled to local and national
armies (often highly mobile) were also key sources of              since the 1960s, the government began allowing private       Radio National Service (Nay Pyi Daw Myanma Ah-Than)                    information ecosystems will result in all citizens
information for citizens in conflict zones. Meanwhile              daily newspapers to print.                                   has served as a government mouthpiece and had little                   becoming “better informed.” Similar assumptions
state radio was the most accessible media source to all                                                                         in the way of entertainment programs, while popular                    lie behind Communication for Development
parties – a ubiquitous kind of information “wallpaper”             Media choices in Myanmar are growing quickly                 MRTV is a joint venture between the government and                     approaches that inject public service messages into
common to all. Such a situation raises intriguing                  and offer the prospect of greater choice and range           the private firm Forever Group Ltd. Still, even these are              target communities. There is, however, a body of
questions about citizen attitudes towards choice,                  of viewpoints, but remain primarily defined by the                                                                                  evidence that suggests these assumptions are not
agency and trust in ecosystems where information has               mainstream media that vary in accessibility and                                                                                     necessarily well founded: that both media content and
                                                                                                                                24	Reporters Without Borders,
traditionally been owned and transmitted primarily                 quality. Newspapers have been proliferating in                   “Burmese Media Spring” (December 2012).                            C4D messages can easily miss their mark, and that
by those vested with some sort of authority.                       the cities while new television programs, driven             25      Ibid.                                                          unintended consequences can ensue. For those who

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 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar   how to inform, empower, and impact communities                    INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                    how to inform, empower, and impact communities

 part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                              PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
ABOUT the research

wish to see an increase in both the quantity and quality                              on the press’s responsibility to society than on the
of content feeding into local information ecosystems                                  freedom of the press. Moreover, the ways the laws are
as a way of enhancing development or democracy                                        being crafted gives significant power to the state to
and governance goals, it will be important to temper                                  disrupt the media environment through business and
runaway excitement about Myanmar’s “opening”                                          licensing practices rather than through the brute force
with an understanding of some of the constraints                                      of censorship. Thus its controls can be quite powerful
and idiosyncrasies in the country’s national and local                                but less visible.”
information ecosystems. It is the contention of this
paper that a better understanding of the information                                  How Information Permeates: trust,
ecosystem of any given community is crucial in                                        need, flow and exchange
order to improve the chances of information actually                                  Methodologies for analyzing local information
reaching its destination.                                                             ecosystems in historically marginalized areas like
                                                                                      Mon State introduce a layer of complexity to the
In a recent report for Internews entitled “The Business                               overarching supply equation by revealing localized
of Media in Myanmar,” leading media management                                        “demand side” factors such as patterns of access, flow
consultant Michelle Foster26 warns of the emergence                                   and exchange as functions of trust and need. What
of significant pressures on the media environment,                                    this means is that even where surveys show expanding
primarily legal and economic. The report serves to                                    audiences in Myanmar accessing new radio, TV and
highlight one of the most important supply equations                                  internet channels, questions need to be asked about
that lies at the heart of any information ecosystem:                                  the quality of news and information available, and how
that is the relationship between information access                                   readily it is able to permeate effectively into complex
(the channels of delivery) and the quality (relevance,                                local information ecosystems across large swathes of
utility) of the information available on those channels.                              the country.

“The government, which has always monopolized the                                     There exists the risk that under the guise of
broadcast sector, now is exerting equal dominance in                                  increased media access, the formerly “information
the print field. Although it claims to be converting                                  dark” ecosystems which prevailed across much of
into a public service media organization, it continues                                the country under military rule may be seamlessly
to hold unfair advantages that directly and indirectly                                replaced with “information lite” ecosystems in which
affect the ability of independent media to succeed.                                   unsophisticated media audiences consume primarily
It has converted its journals to daily newspapers,                                    entertainment and “managed” news content. This
charges only 50 kyats for them wholesale (compared                                    sleight of hand would replicate the information
to 140-170 kyats for the independent dailies) and uses                                ecosystems of the “disciplined democracies” of
its military transportation infrastructure to ensure                                  Singapore, Malaysia and China - to which Myanmar
nationwide daily distribution of more than 200,000
copies.    The various media laws, well-detailed
elsewhere, are being set up to operate under the “social
                                                                                      aspires - by (at best) doing nothing to foster the
                                                                                      development of an informed citizenry and (at worst)
                                                                                      perpetuating state influence over the architecture of
                                                                                                                                                     findings
responsibility model”… that places more emphasis                                      public information and discourse.

26    This report can be accessed here:
      https://internews.org/sites/default/files/resources/Internews_Burma_Business_
      Report2014.pdf                                                                                                                            Mobile phone shop Mawlamyaing - Pan Bae Dan Ward.

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 part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                            PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
findings

W
           hilst Myanmar’s ethnic states are                       Mon State therefore provides an excellent opportunity
           enormously diverse, they do share key                   to case study an environment that remained                 Use of Media and Technology: Key Findings
                                                                   information dark in many respects during these
           features in terms of underdevelopment,
                                                                   periods of turmoil. It also contains significant areas     • 67% of respondents in Mon                  • 21% of respondents own a                • 100% of radio listeners have heard
remoteness, and their history of conflict and political            that can broadly be divided into those that were             State have a TV and DVD/                     mobile phone. 54% of all urban            of Nay Pyi Daw Myanmar Radio
repression. Of all the conflict-affected ethnic states             relatively unscathed by conflict – termed “non-conflict      VCD player in their home.                    respondents have a mobile                 National Service, Myanmar’s state-
                                                                                                                                                                             phone in their household, while           run national radio service. 98%
in Myanmar at the time of the research, Mon State                  areas” for the purpose of this analysis -- and “former     • TV use is highest in urban areas.
                                                                                                                                                                             47% own one themselves.                   have listened to its programs.
                                                                   conflict” areas. Comparison of these two types of            In rural or former conflict areas,
offered the most stable and accessible environment                                                                              access to TV stations without              • Only 2% of mobile phone users use       • Two other domestic radio stations
                                                                   areas allows for another important element in the            a satellite connection is either             their phones to access the Internet.      are highly popular, Padauk Myay
for research in former conflict and non-conflict                   understanding of how information flows are exposed           challenging or not possible.                                                           and Shwe FM. Each are known
                                                                                                                                                                           • In former conflict areas, radio is
areas. Research in Mon State might bring to light                  to different kinds of internal and external disruptions.                                                                                            by close to 90% of radio listeners
                                                                                                                              • Radio use has declined in Mon                the main preferred technology
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       and listened to by over 80%.
findings that could be expected to broadly correlate                                                                            State overall as access to TV                source for news and information.
                                                                   However, beyond the Myanmar/Mon State context, the           and electricity has improved.                                                        • Weekly journals and newspapers
to the contexts of other ethnic states.                                                                                                                                    • 90% or more of radio listeners have
                                                                   research methodology piloted here has the potential        • 77% of the sample did                        heard of the BBC, VOA, and RFA
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       are typically only available in
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       towns, and rarely in villages.
The Mon State pilot research has particular value in               to supply important insights into how information            not have access to grid-                     radio stations, but only 60% have
attempting to describe the information ecosystem                   ecosystems help determine a community’s ability              connected electricity.                       listened to programs on them.           • 98% of respondents have never
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       used the Internet. Over 70% either
of a target community situated at an unprecedented                 to thrive by metabolizing change. This is a key
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       do not know what the Internet is
tipping point in the history of a closed society. Future           determinant of community resilience. Such insights                                                                                                  or do not know how to use it.
iterations of this research in Mon State will make an              in turn can further an understanding of the role that
important contribution to ongoing analysis of the role             healthy information ecosystems may play in the ability     Information Flows: Key Findings
played by local and national information ecosystems                of communities to adapt to future change including
in the political, economic and social development of               shocks such as natural disasters, conflict, or major       • The most common sources of                 • Information is most often               • Only 2% of the sample—
Myanmar.                                                           political events.                                            news and information are radio,              shared by word of mouth                   business owners, professionals,
                                                                                                                                friends and family, and TV.                  (88% of respondents), while               military, and students—strongly
                                                                                                                                                                             just 5% of respondents share              viewed themselves as a source
                                                                                                                              • TV is the most important source
                                                                                                                                                                             news over the phone. Just                 of information for others.
                                                                                                                                in urban areas (used by 62%
                                                                                                                                                                             1% share by email or SMS.
                                                                                                                                of urban respondents), while                                                         • Over 26% of respondents in
                                                                                                                                radio is the most important                • The most frequently shared types          former conflict areas do not
                                                                                                                                source in rural areas (used by               of information are disaster news          share news and information at all.
                                                                                                                                62% of rural respondents).                   or weather forecasts (shared              However, qualitative interviews
                                                                                                                                                                             by 79% of respondents), health            revealed an active network of
                                                                                                                              • In the former conflict areas where
                                                                                                                                                                             information (67%), religious              information exchange before
                                                                                                                                access to news and information is
                                                                                                                                                                             information (57%), and news               the ceasefire to protect villagers
                                                                                                                                most limited, trusted interpersonal
                                                                                                                                                                             about ethnic conflict (54%).              from the location of landmines
                                                                                                                                sources are the most used.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       or potential battle zones.
                                                                                                                                                                           • Less than one-third of
                                                                                                                              • Currently, just 1% of respondents
                                                                                                                                                                             respondents saw themselves              • Despite the prominence of
                                                                                                                                use the Internet to get news
                                                                                                                                                                             as a disseminator of news and             monks in recent political events in
                                                                                                                                and information. Qualitative
                                                                                                                                                                             information to other members              Myanmar, such as the 2007 “Saffron
                                                                                                                                interviews indicated that university
                                                                                                                                                                             of the community. Most news is            Revolution,” respondents in Mon
                                                                                                                                students use the Internet more
                                                                                                                                                                             passed on to friends and family.          State did not consider monks to
                                                                                                                                than any other demographic.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       be a source of political news or
 An Internet                                                                                                                                                                                                           information, and only sought them
      cafe in                                                                                                                                                                                                          out for religious information.
Mawlamyine
       town.

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 INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar   how to inform, empower, and impact communities             INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS in transition: a case study from myanmar                       how to inform, empower, and impact communities

 part one: rese arch findings                                                                                                                                                                                                          PART ONE: RESEARCH FINDINGS
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