DVB is a multimedia news group covering radio, television and online
The Democratic Voice of Burma was initially founded as a radio station operated by four staff in Oslo and a team along the Thai-Burma border. It made its first broadcast into Burma via shortwave radio on 19 July 1992. Today, DVB broadcasts two hours of daily shortwave broadcast into Burma. DVB radio programmes in Burmese are aired once at 6am and once at 9pm Burmese time. Aside from the Burmese broadcasts, a daily slot is also given for programmes carrying the seven major ethnic languages spoken in Burma.
Particularly in the country’s remote border regions, shortwave radios remain a crucial lifeline to the outside world – Amnesty International UK ran a campaign in 2010 to raise money for 10,000 radios to be clandestinely distributed around Burma, stating that, “Outside of the main cities there are few radios – and the ones that exist act as magnets for a population eager to hear the real news”.
DVB opened its television studios for the first time in 2005, setting out on a path that has revolutionised the way journalists operate in strictly controlled environments. It became the first independent Burmese language TV station for Burma. More than any of our other media platforms, DVB television is dependent on our inside team, a 30-strong network of undercover video journalists, or VJs, that are spread throughout Burma’s major urban areas and into the remote border regions. DVB's journalists in Burma have been frequently arrested and imprisoned, and only in January 2012 were all 17 jailed staff released from prison. Many fall foul of the government’s notorious Video and Electronics Acts, violation of which can result in double-digit jail terms.
Footage collected by the VJs is sent via post, through proxy internet servers and sometimes on foot across the border to Thailand. This is then processed in our Thailand and Norway offices into news and feature packages and broadcast back into Burma via satellites in Europe, where it is watched by nearly 30% of the population.
It remains the only independent 24/7 Burmese language TV channel that airs inside Burma, covering politics, sport and youth affairs in the form of hard news and features.
Two news websites covering current affairs in Burmese and English language extend and enhance radio and television programming, as well as generating original content. Although internet penetration inside Burma remains among the world’s lowest, our Burmese language site still receives 20,000-plus unique visitors a day. The English-language website is run by a small team in the Thailand office, offering hard news, features, opinion and television shorts. It has become a key source of information and analysis for international policymakers and diplomats and much of the global population interested in developments inside Burma. The English language website attracts around 7,000 unique visitors each day.
The Democratic Voice of Burma began in 1992 as a small radio station operating along the Thai-Burma border, from where it would broadcast news programmes via shortwave frequency to households in Burma. Its sole purpose then was, and to a large extent still is, to provide a counterweight to the dominance of state-run, propagandist media in Burma, a country that ranks at the tail-end of virtually every press freedom index in circulation.
In parallel to the Thai-Burma operation DVB opened an office in Oslo in 1992, and made its first live broadcast from there in 1993. It continued operating along the border until 1995 when the Burmese army stormed the site of its radio station.
Since its first broadcast, using only a microphone, a double deck cassette player, audio mixer and fax machine, it has dramatically expanded. A Burmese and English-language website have since been added to the operation, and in 2005 it began broadcasting daily news via satellite television into Burma.
DVB is dependent on an 80-strong network of undercover reporters inside Burma who take enormous risks to collect and send information to our offices in Thailand and Norway. Seventeen of these reporters are now in jail, some serving sentences of more than 60 years.
The organisation’s remit has widened in recent years and we are now the first port of call for international news stations looking for footage of events inside the country. The vast majority of footage filmed inside Burma and aired on global television networks is from DVB – that was certainly the case for the September 2007 uprising (a documentary made about DVB’s coverage of the protests, Burma VJ, was nominated for an Oscar last year) and the devastating cyclone in 2008.
Two major events in 2010 again thrust DVB and Burma into the spotlight. In June we premiered an hour-long investigative documentary on Al Jazeera called ‘Myanmar’s Military Ambitions’, which followed a five-year undercover probe into the country’s nascent nuclear weapons programme.
And in November Burma held its first elections in two decades. Despite heavy security and a crackdown on independent media, our journalists were brave and innovative, filming on secret cameras and cellphones, and providing hours of footage and daily reports. DVB also pulled off the first ever live in-country TV broadcast by a non-state media group.