Accurate media reporting, trust in businesses depend on corporate transparency

Disclosure of company information is required for accurate business reporting and building trust between big business and communities, according to speakers at a seminar in Yangon on February 6.

Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) director Vicky Bowman and The Myanmar Times digital editor and deputy business editor Thompson Chau, who was speaking individually in his own capacity, addressed a corporate briefing hosted by the Myanmar-Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MHKCCI) on how online disclosure of corporate information and constructive engagement with the media and other stakeholders can support a more healthy investment climate, as well as build a company’s social licence to operate by facilitating more accurate media coverage of the company and its activities.

Disclosure requirements in Myanmar

A slew of regulations in Myanmar in recent years have stepped up corporate disclosure obligations, including requirements under the Myanmar Investment Law, the Companies Law as well as continuous disclosure obligations on unlisted public companies with more than 100 shareholders issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Myanmar (SECM). The Central Bank of Myanmar has also issued directives requiring disclosure while companies are now legally obliged to publish Environmental Impact Assessment reports.

Meanwhile, the SECM and the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) are jointly drafting a new Notification on Corporate Governance targeted at listed companies and companies with more than 100 shareholders.

The Pwint Thit Sa 2020 report, conducted by MCRB and Yangon-based consulting firm Yever, would cover the most recent regulatory requirements, said Ms Bowman.

For example, new requirements on all companies to disclose beneficial ownership and on banks to undertake customer due diligence had issued in November 2019 from DICA and the Central Bank respectively, in response to the recommendations to Myanmar from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) set up by the OECD to combat money-laundering.

Beneficial ownership disclosure of extractives companies, including whether they are politically exposed persons (PEPs), is also a requirement as of January 1 this year for Myanmar as a member country of the global Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international effort to fight corruption in managing revenues from oil, gas and mineral extraction.

DICA had recently uploaded the first batch of extractives ownership and PEP details, but this newspaper revealed that owners of major businesses or their close relatives who hold prominent public positions have so far not declared themselves as such in the database.

Ms Bowman said this was a positive step towards EITI compliance although it demonstrated that more training was needed to explain the concepts, including the distinction between legal ownership and beneficial ownership, which was more focused on those who “exercise ultimate effective control over a legal person or arrangement.”

Using the example of Air KBZ, Ms Bowman highlighted that in Myanmar family-owned businesses, beneficial ownership may not be exactly the same as legal ownership. Legal ownership details were already available for companies through the company extracts which could be purchased for K10,000 from MyCo database, Myanmar’s company registry launched by DICA last year.

Working with the media

In his presentation, Mr Chau gave a brief overview of the media environment in Myanmar and the changes in revenue models in the industry.

He also detailed the challenges in undertaking reporting in the absence of accessible corporate information, highlighting the ongoing investigation by The Myanmar Times into whether the Myanmar Investment Commission and other government bodies were actually making available information about both proposed and approved investments in accordance with their statutory requirements and in a way that benefits local communities.

The private sector in Myanmar should support effective corporate and investigative reporting by subscribing to and advertising with media outlets which prioritise this, he said, since professional business reporting is essential to creating a fair investment climate and building public trust towards listed companies, banks and financial institutions.

“In the absence of sufficient government disclosure of company activities, including investments and donations, businesses are advised to be transparent about their operations and engage with the media and other stakeholders on their own,” Mr Chau said on the sidelines of the MHKCCI briefing.

“While Pwint Thit Sa 2019 shows that information disclosure among Myanmar companies has overall improved, a lot of companies are still not transparent. Out of 248 companies surveyed, 108 has no disclosure at all. This makes it difficult for journalists to report, and report accurately, on corporate activities,” he added, referring to MCRB’s corporate transparency report.

The Yangon-based journalist advised on how best companies could engage ethically and effectively with the media, including not attempting to use advertising to influence an outlet’s reporting, not expecting newspapers to print press releases at the behest of the company, particularly where there was little news value, and should refrain from giving gifts or “brown envelopes” to reporters.

He also reminded the audience to respect the intellectual property of the media. This meant that they should not “copy and paste” news articles onto their own websites or other communications without first obtaining permission.

The Myanmar Press Council has highlighted a list of “yellow journals” and Facebook pages which were engaged in intellectual property theft.

The Myanmar Press Council has highlighted a list of “yellow journals” and Facebook pages which were engaged in intellectual property theft, and companies are discouraged from supporting them with advertising revenue.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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