Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Towards a Re-discovery of the Public Sphere: Myanmar/Burma's 'Exile Media's' Counter-hegemonic Potential and the U.S. News Media's Re-framing of American Foreign Policy

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Oliver Boyd-Barrett (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Neil Englehart (Other)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Member)


This study explores Myanmar/Burma’s “independent” “exile media’s” counter-hegemonic potential and relationship to public sphere formation amid their transition toward commercial models of organization. Employing a comparative content analysis of these media’s and mainstream American news media’s framing of Myanmar/Burma’s democratic reforms, this inquiry correspondingly seeks to gain insight into the nature news frame construction by Burmese exile and U.S. media. As this pursuit necessitates an understanding of the historical, economic, cultural, and technological contextual forces shaping such patterns (Mody, 1978; 1987; 1989; 2010), analysis of data was understood relative to an examination of Myanmar/Burma’s socio-historical context, prevailing public sphere, news framing, and political economy scholarship, participant observation of the country’s current media landscape, and interviews with the co-founders and senior editors of Myanmar/Burma’s exile media.

Incorporating the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and culminating in President Barack Obama’s “landmark” visit to Myanmar/Burma, 2003-2012 was selected as the overarching timeframe for investigation. The headlines, by-lines, and dates of 323 New York Times and 24 USA Today articles were examined through qualitative content analysis. Furthermore, January 2011 through December 2012 was selected as a sub-sample timeframe for an in-depth qualitative analysis of relevant frames. Eighty-nine (New York Times = 83; USA Today = 6) “mainstream U.S. media” and 90 “exile media” articles (The Irrawaddy = 37; Mizzima News = 30; Democratic Voice of Burma = 23) were analyzed through a deductive application of a coding instrument constructed through an initial pilot study.

This investigation finds that Myanmar/Burma’s exile media have long been predicated on “bottom-up” and “horizontal flows” of communication, in turn embodying the tenants of “alternative media” and “participatory” and “development journalism”. While not occupying the unique location between state and market personified by Habermas’ ideal public sphere, these media have nonetheless cultivated discursive terrains that may be said to represent “alternative public spheres”. Despite their recent transition toward commercial models of organization, their history of success in bypassing the state’s monopoly over information and their current role within the country’s media reforms demonstrates that these media have and continue to possess counter-hegemonic influence. Furthermore, this study revealed the longstanding presence of a “War on Terror frame” inherently connected to a “human rights frame” within American media’s coverage of Myanmar/Burma. These two interconnected frames were in turn found to have been supplanted by a “China conflict frame” following the country’s democratic reforms, one that served to reposition the United States within a “Cold War” narrative surrounding an ideological confrontation between two global superpowers.