Former Burmese Exile Broadcaster DVB Goes Commercial

By Saw Yan Naing 3 October 2013

After more than two decades relying mainly on donors to fund its reporting and broadcasting, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a leading Burmese news outlet, has announced that it will turn to a commercial business model as donor funding dries up.

During an official announcement event at the Park Royal Hotel in Rangoon on Thursday, Khin Maung Win, deputy executive director of DVB, said “many challenges” would accompany the transformation.

“We might have many challenges ahead because we have been running our operations for 21 years with funding from donors, relying mainly on donors in the past. And we are not familiar with the process of how to run the organization commercially,” Khin Maung Win said.

“But this is the only choice. We have no other option but to turn the organization into a commercial enterprise,” he added. “Donors who have been funding us for 21 years think that there are many private media now inside the country [that are run commercially without donors]. They said that we have to survive in the media market. We need to compete. And that is what we can’t deny. We have to accept it.”

The event was held to publicly announce that DVB would be accepting commercial advertising and was willing to partner with suitable companies.

Maung Maung Win, a lawyer who serves as a legal consultant for DVB, said he would “try to help the company to be able to stand as a media firm in accordance with existing Burmese law.

“Currently, we have already received the company’s license. We have also paid tax to the government and provided bank account information.”

DVB was founded in 1992 by exile Burmese activists in Oslo, Norway, in cooperation with the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a political organization formed to oppose the ruling military regime of the time. Both organizations were formed in exile, and the NCGUB was dissolved in September 2012.

Originally produced as a shortwave radio broadcasting program, DVB launched a satellite TV pilot project in 2004, resulting in the launch of weekly satellite TV programming in May of 2005.

Since 2009, DVB has won several international press awards including the Rory Peck Award. In 2012, DVB was among five Nobel Peace Prize finalists, for the news outlet’s work providing credible, factual reporting on the situation in Burma in the face of severe repression by the former military regime.

DVB moved its base of operations from Norway to Burma and Thailand in 2012. It began the gradual transformation from a donor-funded news outlet to self-reliant media with commercial partnerships in early 2013.

An agent from an advertising company who attended the event on Thursday said DVB played a major role in broadcasting what was happening in Burma at a time when press freedom was nonexistent in the country.

“Many people like it because there was no television that was broadcasting such critical news against the government at that time. If they can keep that momentum, it will still have a big audience. We are learning and considering putting ads on their TV,” said the agent.

Many Burmese became fans of DVB in 2007, when military troops brutally cracked down on nationwide demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in the so-called Saffron Revolution, which DVB journalists filmed at great personal risk. Video of the protests and government-sanctioned violence also put Burma in the international spotlight for a time.