Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), the country’s longest running exile broadcaster, which first aired in 1992, will enter a new phase on 26 October, switching from shortwave to online radio.
“Surveys show fewer people listen to shortwave nowadays, therefore DVB is focusing more of its content on new digital media and TV output, which will also be available via Internet and mobile phones,” said Aye Chan Naing, executive director of DVB Multimedia Group.
October 2014 marks the end of an era for DVB radio, which was arguably the pioneer of Burmese exile broadcasting.
Journalist Maung Too, who was a field reporter for DVB since its inception as a voice for the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), reminisced about the days when Burma was iron curtained. His colleagues fondly tease him as a rebel by day who moonlighted as a reporter.
“We are talking of a time when nobody knew what was happening inside the country; there was war and fighting and human rights violations, a repressive political atmosphere and information control,” said Maung Too.
The then exiled Burmese prime minister, Sein Win, requested assistance from the Norwegian government to help establish a radio station to reach Burma with information that the military regime would otherwise censor.Thus from Oslo, on 19 July 1992, the first shortwave transmission was broadcast.
The demographic disposition of Burma, with large-scale poverty and illiteracy in remote regions, made radio news a permeable, feasible and ultimately popular medium among the public.
The process of broadcasting one single episode seemed tenuous and long, but as Maung Too recounts the early years, one cannot miss the adventure that outlined the production of each episode.
“In those days the process of broadcasting news in itself was a struggle, as we were not allowed inside Burma,” he said, explaining how each episode was recorded on tape and sent to Bangkok, from where it would be sent to Oslo to be transmitted.
“In a way, [DVB] always echoed the unified voices of all the ethnic groups in Burma – Shan, Karen, Chin , Mon – against the injustice of the military government, ” said a senior DVB reporter.
DVB radio gained notoriety with the Burmese military junta to the extent that the regime described it as “a killer broadcast designed to cause troubles” which was “sowing hatred among the people”.
DVB radio was often accused of being biased towards Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. However it has always maintained that it was never affiliated to any party but rather considered itself a part of the movement fighting for change in Burma’s political system. “We have maintained a policy of giving voice to the democratic movement in Burma,” says DVB Deputy Executive Director Khin Maung Win.
In 2005, DVB expanded into the domain of TV broadcasting.
Asked if video was effectively killing off radio, Khin Maung Win said, “I don’t think so. We are just entering a new phase.” He explained that there is a possibility that the contents of the radio shows would be aired via other mediums and partnerships in Burma. DVB will also apply for FM radio licenses in Burma, he added.
The last episode of DVB radio will be broadcast from its Chiang Mai station on Sunday morning, 26 October, from 6 -7 am.