Monday, February 14, 2011

Democratic Voice of Burma facing funding crunch


Burma’s media in exile, long a thorn in the side of the ruling generals, are being squeezed by funding cuts that some blame on a change in policy by Western donors in a shifting political landscape. Overseas-based media such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) are seen as an important source of news in the impoverished nation, where an authoritarian government keeps a stranglehold on domestic reporting. As a new political system emerges in Burma (called Myanmar by the regime), with a new parliament, some believe donors have been tempted to divert funding into the country, despite evidence it is still dominated by the military hierarchy.

Within weeks of the first elections in 20 years, DVB - an Oslo-based television, radio and online news provider that is banned in Burma - cancelled several programmes after suffering big losses in subsidies.
DVB deputy manager Khin Maung Win said the cuts amounted to about $1 million in 2011, partly because the group had received roughly $500,000 in extra funding last year to cover the November election. He said it would result in job cuts among some of the group’s 150 journalists based in Norway, Thailand or Burma. “As of now, we cannot conclude it is a policy change from the donors’ side, but it has a painful effect on us,” he said.

Burma’s exiled media derives most of its financial support from European governments, mainly Scandinavian, and from public and private donations from the United States. The DVB did not say which donors were behind the cuts, but it is believed to be mainly European governments.

Reporters working inside Myanmar for banned exile media organisations risk long jail sentences. Earlier this month DVB video reporter Maung Maung Zeya, 58, was handed 13 years in prison after being caught filming at the scene of a bomb blast in April 2010. His son Sithu Zeya has been given an 18-year jail term on similar charges, according to Aung Thein, a legal adviser for political prisoners.

DVB TV is watched almost as much as the state-funded channels in Myanmar, despite a ban on the sale of satellite dishes, according to Reporters Without Borders. The website is also a respected source of news for those outside the country. Other established independent media sources covering the country include Radio Free Asia (RFA), financed by the United States, and the BBC’s Burmese service, which recently escaped being axed in severe cuts by the broadcaster. Many Burmese rely on such radio broadcasts from outside Myanmar to keep up with world news.

While access to exiled media websites in Myanmar is restricted by the authorities, some people use proxy servers to bypass the blocks. “We think the more sources for accurate, objective information in Burma, the better and the declining trends are troubling,” said RFA spokesman John Estrella.
(Source: AFP/R Netherlands Media Network Weblog)

Democratic Voice of Burma

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