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VOA, Democratic Voice of Burma Sign Broadcast Deal

Amanda Bennett, center, attends a signing ceremony at Rangoon's Royal Park Hotel for an agreement to share content between the Voice of America and the Democratic Voice of Burma, Oct. 16, 2016.

Voice of America has signed a content sharing agreement with the Democratic Voice of Burma, which will see VOA Burmese language service content broadcast on DVB channels.

DVB, one of the fastest-growing television networks in Myanmar, has its roots in the Southeast Asian country’s exiled student movement. The network makes radio and television news broadcasts about current events in Myanmar for a domestic audience.

“These TV and broadcast entities have played a great role in bringing democracy to Burma,” said Rangoon Division Prime Minister U Phyo Min Thein, addressing a Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony at Rangoon’s Royal Park Hotel, which was attended Sunday by four top VOA officials and several parliamentarians.

“They have provided accurate news to our people,” Thein added. “This latest agreement will help VOA’s TV programs reach a wider audience in Burma.”

“[VOA and DVB] have the same mission of bringing fair, objective, credible news and information to the people,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said of the partnership, which will see DVB rebroadcast VOA Burmese news programming twice daily. “I’m very happy that we’ll be joining with another organization that has the same high journalistic standards that we have, and that this partnership will enable us to reach even more people in this country than before.”

VOA and Burmese officials also discussed a possible media exchange program that would include journalism training for VOA affiliates in the region.

On Monday, Bennett and other VOA officials also met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, whose army-run Myawaddy TV Channel already rebroadcasts some VOA Burmese TV programs.

“We discussed the possibility of expanding our placement of our Learning English programs on the army’s television station,” Bennett said, referring to VOA’s captioned video and audio programs that provide news and information for English learners worldwide. “They like the Learning English programming, and what we were talking about was giving them more of this type of content and perhaps even supplying some news to their TV broadcast.

“We feel like we have a special mission, and that is the providing of fair and objective journalism,” Bennett added. “I think there are still a lot of challenges and sensitivities in terms of what the domestic press can and can’t write about — and where journalists can and can’t go — but, nonetheless, it seems like it’s pointing in the right direction.”

VOA Burmese Language Service Chief Than Lwin Htun said Hlaing reiterated well-worn talking points that convey the army’s support for democratization and the newly established civilian government, but that he declined to discuss political issues.

Asked whether Hlaing would comment on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, Htun said the army chief parried.

“He didn’t talk much about Rakhine this evening. However, he talked about the peace process,” Htun said, referring to an investigatory commission led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which is conducting a fact-finding mission into the bitter ethnic and religious strife that has left the majority of an estimated 125,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims confined to temporary camps following waves of deadly violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

VOA’s meeting with Hlaing followed the October 7 announcement of President Barack Obama’s decision to lift sanctions on Myanmar, citing the Southeast Asian country’s advancements in promoting democracy.

That decision to lift sanctions has rankled some human rights activists, who say the government has yet to do enough to address the Rohingya’s longstanding persecution.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Burmese Service.