Aung San Suu Kyi's visit underscores importance of VOA and RFA radio for freedom advocates in oppressed nations

BBG Watch Commentary

On the occasion of VOA’s 70th anniversary this year, Aung San Suu Kyi said it was like the birthday of a friend, “because the VOA and other broadcasting stations were the friends who kept me company during my long years of house arrest.”

And one former Voice of America broadcaster made this comment about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA) in Washington, DC on September 18, 2012:

“Great moments. Like the time that Vaclav Havel came to VOA in another era. Unfortunately, the Executive Staff which rules the BBG has never appreciated the impact of VOA broadcasts in the world — broadcasts which they have been trying to cut for the past decade.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit underscores importance of VOA and RFA for freedom advocates in oppressed nations radio

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Tuesday, participating in interviews with Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) and meeting with some of the agency’s top officials who have been trying to eliminate the type of radio broadcasts which kept her informed during her long house arrest in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted warmly by VOA journalists, many of whom would have been fired on recommendations of the BBG’s executive staff if the U.S. Congress had not intervened to save VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China, Tibet and other countries without free media. The Broadcasting Board of Governors agency has the lowest employee morale in the federal government according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys.

Citing audience research now being provided under a 50 million dollar contract with Gallup, the BBG executive staff believes that everyone in the world is or should be using Twitter and other Internet media and that these audiences desire more human interest stories, such as this one on writing in cursive, As Computers Rise, Schools Witness The Slow Death Of Cursive, from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), whose senior managers who were journalists were replaced by non-jurnalists. Under this logic, firing experienced journalists focused on human rights reporting and replacing them with poorly-paid contractors who write human interest stories for the web makes some sense since these types of stories attract more hits. Once radio and TV broadcasts are eliminated, getting these hits becomes critical for these executives to prove the success of their strategy.

Gallup specializes in commercial media research, while BBG broadcasts have traditionally targeted oppressed groups which commercial media ignore. BBG strategists want to shift the focus from these groups to a broader audience and to pay for it by eliminating or limiting radio and television broadcasts to Russia, China, and even Tibet and Burma. These executives, who report to the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo who reportedly referred to Aung San Suu Kyi as “the woman from Burma,” view radio as obsolete. They had negotiated the contract with Gallup while preparing plans to lay off over 200 journalists and broadcasters who specialize in human rights reporting.

But human rights activists abroad, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Chen Guangcheng, and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, disagree with these highly-paid BBG executives, as do members of Congress from both parties. Some members of the bipartisan BBG board, particularly Ambassador Victor Ashe, a Republican, Michael Meehan, a Democrat, and Susan McCue, a Democrat, are also defending radio broadcasts by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia to nations without free media.

On the occasion of VOA’s 70th anniversary this year, Aung San Suu Kyi said it was like the birthday of a friend, “because the VOA and other broadcasting stations were the friends who kept me company during my long years of house arrest.”

And one former Voice of America broadcaster made this comment about Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit:

“Great moments. Like the time that Vaclav Havel came to VOA in another era. Unfortunately, the Executive Staff which rules the BBG has never appreciated the impact of VOA broadcasts in the world — broadcasts which they have been trying to cut for the past decade.”

And this from the Voice of America interview recorded Tuesday with Aung San Suu Kyi:

STEARNS: One final question. Another question from Facebook – In your years under house arrest, what is it that kept it going? Did you feel that it was just never going to end?

ASSK: No I never felt it was never going to end, and I didn’t really feel the need for anything to keep me going. I felt myself to be on the path that I had chosen and I was perfectly prepared to keep to that path.

STEARNS: What would you say to people in other countries who are in similar situations, under house arrest, who look to you for inspiration?

ASSK: First of all I would say don’t give up hope. At the same time I would say there is no hope without endeavor. You’ve got to work, you got to make an effort. It is not enough to sit and hope. You have to work in order to realize your hopes.

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Official BBG Press Release

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi Visits the BBG

(l to r) BBG Governor Michael Meehan, Aung San Suu Kyi, BBG Governors Victor Ashe and Susan McCue at RFA in Washington, DC.
(left to right) BBG Governor Michael Meehan, Aung San Suu Kyi, BBG Governors Victor Ashe and Susan McCue at RFA in Washington, DC.

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today, participating in interviews with Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) and meeting with top agency officials.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner praised BBG broadcasters for providing news and information to the Burmese people despite strict government control over the media. And she called for a continued strong U.S. international media presence in Burma.

Over the next week, Suu Kyi will address the United Nations in New York and receive the Congressional Gold Medal from U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This is her first trip to the United States since being placed under house arrest in 1990. She was released in November 2010.

During her visits to RFA and VOA, Suu Kyi met with BBG Governors Michael Meehan, Victor Ashe, and Susan McCue, International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo, VOA Director David Ensor, RFA President Libby Liu and others.

She praised RFA for serving as a critical information lifeline for her and the Burmese people during the military junta’s authoritarian rule and the country’s current era of transition and reform.

“This is, in many ways, as I have been saying, the last mile,” Suu Kyi said. “This is the time we need all the help possible to make sure that our country keeps on the right path. This is another way of saying RFA is needed more than ever for us in Burma and for other people in other places, which are not yet free.”

“Human rights must be protected by the rule of law and there can never be occasions where human rights can be neglected or ignored,” Suu Kyi said during her interview at VOA headquarters.

VOA has provided extensive first-hand coverage of Suu Kyi’s tour of Europe this year, and carried the full speech of her unprecedented address to the British Parliament in June. In August, VOA was granted its first-ever interview with a Burmese head of state, President Thein Sein.

This year, RFA launched a special webpage to inform the international community about the plight of the Burmese ethnic minority Rohingya population. The Rohingya are little known but have been brought to the fore with the outbreak of communal violence in the last three months. RFA was one of the few news organizations that had a reporter and videographer at the scene of the violence after it erupted.
When Burmese voters went to the polls on April 1 and the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) were there providing wall-to-wall coverage as democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gained a seat in Parliament.

On the occasion of VOA’s 70th anniversary this year, Suu Kyi said it was like the birthday of a friend, “because the VOA and other broadcasting stations were the friends who kept me company during my long years of house arrest.”

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