The original version of this article by Lawi Weng was published on The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar. An edited version is reproduced in Global Voices as part of an agreement to share content.
The weekly The Guiding Star of Myanmar, which was published in mon, has just turned 20, We talked to Nai Kasauh Mon, editor in chief and founder of the newspaper, about the challenges of running a mon publication in a hostile environment.
Myanmar has almost two million people of Mon ethnicity, and about 10% read The Guiding Star, which is based in Mawlamyine, capital of the state Mon.
Now, more people consume news on their phones and there are few who still buy newspapers, according to Nai Kasauh Mon.
The print media has faced major problems as people move towards digital.
The print media have faced major problems now that the public has gone to digital.
The circulation has fallen to 1200 copies of the almost 5000 of 2014.
We are no longer covering costs. In the past we were able to pay our journalists from our marketing journals and sometimes able to save some money.
We no longer cover the costs. Before we could pay our journalists with our income and sometimes we could save some money.
He said the publication has also been the victim of state repression and the arrest of its journalists because it has faced the military regime.
Nai Kasauh Mon said that many mon cannot read the language and that the reading is now dominated by mon Buddhist monks. The mon is not recognized for official use, so it is useless for the boys to learn it, he added. Blame the lack of a federal system and the Burmese domain. Consider The Guiding Star with an important way to preserve the mon.
Our readers love the language and it increases their ability to read more Mon literature.
Our readers love the language and increases their ability to read more mon literature.
The Guiding Star is requesting donations to pay salaries and Nai Kasauh Mon said it will stop production if sales fall below 500.
If we could find 50 million kyats (US $ 33,200), we would use it to keep printing. If we could get 20 million kyats per year, we could deliver our journal for free to ethnic Mon.
If we could find 50 million kyats ($ 33,200), we could use them to continue printing. If we could reach 20 million kyats ($ 13 200) per year, we could distribute our newspaper for free to mon.
The Guiding Star reports mostly on mon matters, but also translates some international news. He publishes opinion articles, business articles, interviews and has an entertainment section.
The newspaper has 15 workers and 25 distributors. It also has workers in Sangkhlaburi, a Thai border town with a large mon community.
Some readers have suggested ways for The Guiding Star to guarantee its long-term survival.
Nai Banyar Hongsar of Australia, a former workman for The Guiding Star who has trained mon journalists, said journalism should be based around people's lives, not their ethnicity. All publications will fail if readers are not interested, he said – media groups are closing around the world because they were not writing about issues that affected people's lives.
Journalists just wrote about easy subjects and ignored the big issues, which were important for the people. They did not write about news which has a big impact and the people lose interest in the newspaper.
Journalists wrote about easy topics and ignored the major problem, which was important for people. They did not write news that has great impact and people lost interest in the newspaper.
He said that drug problems, falling rubber prices, unemployed migrant workers and how floods destroyed rice paddies were important issues.
We did not write about their difficulties, but we did write about the seasonal festival. They knew already about the festival so we did not have to report it. Young reporters sometimes do not know what they should write about.
We didn't write about their difficulties, but we wrote about the seasonal festival. They already knew about the festival, so we didn't have to report it. Young reporters sometimes do not know what they should write about.
The cover of The Guiding Star shows how newspaper quality has deteriorated, he added.
Buddhist monk Mon Ashin Popphahongsa said:
We read and support Guiding Star so we can find out about Mon issues. We believe it is more reliable than other media groups on Mon issues.
We read and support The Guiding Star so we can find out about mon matters. We believe that it is more reliable than other media in mon matters.
The monk said he liked the news, opinion pieces and political coverage. To ensure its survival, he suggested that The Guiding Star invest in distribution and extend its network, and that profits not be a priority.
Min Jotamoi Anin of the Ye people said that the newspaper's sales strategy should be improved.
Social media is to blame. There are ethnic Mon who want to read Guiding Star, but they cannot buy it because of the poor distribution. I donated money this year to buy Guiding Star for our Mon national school.
The fault is of social media. There are mon who want to read The Guiding Star, but can not buy it because of poor distribution. I made a donation this year to buy The Guiding Star for our national mon school.
Others felt the same, but they don't know they can buy The Guiding Star for mon national schools, said Min Jotamoi Anin.
Origins of Guiding Star
Nai Kasauh Mon initially worked for human rights groups in Sangkhlaburi, on the border with Thailand. He decided that citizens should not only know about human rights, but also about politics, economics, mon education and about migrant workers in Thailand.
In September 1999, at 31, he started The Guiding Start with three colleagues.
The mon alphabet did not exist in Microsoft Word. Nai Ork Paing, friend of Nai Kasauh Mon, worked to create it.
Nai Kasauh Mon contacted mon monks in Yangon with media experience.
Some Mon monks worked for a Mon magazine in Yangon. They knew how to write articles and were well-educated in the Mon language. I invited a monk (Nai Bee Htaw) to secretly work for us on the border. We told him how we wanted to run our publication and he served as editor.
Some mon monks worked for a mon magazine in Rangoon. He knew how to write articles and they knew the mon. I invited a monk (Nai Bee Htaw) to work secretly for us at the border. We told him that we wanted him to direct our publication and he worked as an editor.
At that time, if the military discovered that someone worked in media across the border they could severely punish him.
The Guiding Star did not have the resources to print many copies, and a monk from Thailand helped to type and print the newspaper in Bangkok.
I have worked for us for free at first. After printing, he sent it back to the border and even distributed it to Mon migrants.
First he worked with us for free. After printing I sent it back to the border and even distributed it to mon migrants.
The Guiding Star initially printed 500 copies of each number, which were distributed mainly at the border. On the other hand, Nai Kasauh Mon, worked in the Committee of Aid and Development and Distance Education Program Mon.
I saved some money from my work and helped fund the newspaper. We almost gave up at that time as there were many difficulties.
I saved money from my work and helped finance the newspaper. We almost gave up at that time because there were many difficulties.
Nai Kasauh Mon had no documents to enter Thailand, so he had to receive copies at the border.
The Guiding Star began with eight black and white pages. In 2001, with funds from the NGO Burmese Help Center, it could be expanded to 12 pages.
In 2008, the newspaper was secretly printed in the Mon state for the first time with the help of the monks, and the concoiment increased.
“There were many risks for the monks who helped us,” said Nai Kasauh Mon.
In 2010, some monks tried to boycott the general elections, they said they were neither fair nor free. Those monks called the mon to join the boycott.
A monk who led the boycott was arrested and involved in the distribution of the newspaper. Authorities searched their monastery and found computers and printers. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for different crimes.
Other distributor who was a member of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) He was arrested in 2003. He was detained for a month and released after his party negotiated with the regime.
The regime of former President U Thein Sein, who came to power in 2013, allowed more freedom of the press, especially for ethnic publications.
The reforms allowed The Guiding Star staff to return to exile. Meetings with mon community leaders were held to discuss how The Guiding Star could be installed in Mon state.
“The road to the Mon state was bad at that time. We went by boat, ”recalls Nai Kasauh Mon.
The Guiding Star managed to regroup its previous network of about one hundred volunteers who had distributed the newspaper under the military regime.
The organization sold 5000 copies per number for 500 kyats ($ 0.33) each. The Guiding Star has been based in Mon State for six years, after 14 years on the other side of the Thai border.
They welcomed us back. We feel strong support from the Mon. Among ethnic-minority news publications, we were the first to publish inside the country.
They welcomed us back. We feel strong support from the mon. Among ethnic minority publications, we were the first to publish within the country.