May 24, 2011

Business tycoon to launch a "Myanmar Wall Street Journal"

ONE of Myanmar’s best-connected businessmen is set to enter the media industry and has already begun head-hunting top journalists and economists for what sources say will be a business-focused weekly.

U Nay Aung plans to launch the publishing venture in the coming months, a source in the industry told The Myanmar Times on May 12.

“The title will be something like Myanmar Wall Street Journal,” the person said.

With his brother, U Pyi Aung, U Nay Aung runs business conglomerate IGE Co Ltd, which has interests in the oil and gas, petrol retailing, banking, agriculture, timber and other sectors.

The news that a prominent business tycoon is set to launch a journal has sparked debate in the media industry about the possible reasons behind the decision. Most agree that profit is unlikely to be the motive.

When The Myanmar Times contacted IGE – short for International Group of Entrepreneur – a company spokesperson refused to confirm the news. IGE is believed to be trying to keep the project “low profile” but given the tight-knit nature of the media industry and the company’s attempts to recruit some of its most respected members, the news has been spreading fast.

Few were willing to speak on the record about the project, but many in the industry said they considered it a positive development and indicative of the media’s growing stature in Myanmar.

“It is good for the media sector to get more investment, especially in terms of building human resource capacity. That is one of the major difficulties in the sector’s development at present,” said a veteran journalist who was approached to join the publication.

The company began sounding out experienced journalists and economists in March, offering senior positions in the new venture with monthly salaries up to K1 million (USD 1,200)– at least 50 percent higher than the industry standard.

“Some veteran journalists and economists have received offers to join [IGE],” confirmed another well-placed source.

Among those who have been offered a position on the publication’s editorial team is U Khin Maung Nyo, an economist and respected writer on finance issues.

“Yes, they contacted and offered me [a position],” he confirmed earlier this month. “But I haven’t decided yet if I will accept it. I also don’t know the details about their project yet.”

The journal’s focus on business and finance is hardly surprising given IGE’s recent foray into banking. In August 2010, IGE opened the first branch of its United Amara Bank in Nay Pyi Taw and has plans to open branches in at least 10 more locations throughout the country.

However, given the scale of the IGE empire, U Nay Aung’s media foray has raised some concerns about how the Myanmar Wall Street Journal editorial team will be able to report on their employers’ business activities.

Sources in the industry say the editorial team has been told it will enjoy complete independence when reporting on IGE and other topics. However, one veteran journalist said he was in no doubt conflict of interest issues would arise at some stage.

“Whether the editorial team can act independently will depend largely on their attitude and in particular the approach of the editor-in-chief. Of course, the degree of intervention by the publisher [U Nay Aung] will also be important,” he said.

However, given the journal is unlikely to be very profitable – particularly when compared to some of IGE’s energy projects – observers expressed doubts that U Nay Aung plans to be a benign presence.

There is also the speculation that Myanmar Wall Street Journal is being launched in anticipation of the establishment of a stock exchange in Myanmar, which would increase the demand for accurate financial and business information.

Its United States-based namesake, The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, takes its name from the financial district of New York City where the New York Stock Exchange is located.

In January, news agency Reuters reported that South Korea’s bourse operator, Korea Exchange, was in talks with the government about opening a stock market in Myanmar but a spokesperson said “nothing has been decided”.

Korea Exchange is involved in running the Laos Securities Exchange and is setting up a long-delayed stock market in Cambodia, which is due to open in July. Both are joint ventures with the respective governments.

Source: Myanmar Times