VOA Khmer Service Celebration

David Ensor, Reasy Poch and Chris Decherd


Members of the Khmer Service held a group lunch in the office on Tuesday, October 16 to celebrate their latest achievements. Participants included VOA Director David Ensor, VOA Khmer Service Chief Chris Decherd and VOA Khmer Program Coordinator and TV-Video Unit Coordinator Reasy Poch, who last week received a Gold Medal Award.

“Each one of you has contributed in important ways to the steady and ongoing evolution of VOA Khmer,” reflected Chris Decherd on the invitation to the event. “This journey ensures that we serve well our audience, the 15 million citizens of Cambodia.”

Said Reasy Poch of his recent award: “It’s an honor to be recognized as part of this team. Everyone in the Khmer Service works so hard. And I’d like to encourage other people to do their very best, knowing that their efforts are recognized.”

Q&A with Than Lwin Htun, VOA’s Burmese Service Chief

Last week we posted the first part of a series focused on recollections of reporting during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and discussion of the state of media freedom and society in the country today. This week, Notebook interviewed Than Lwin Htun, VOA’s Burmese Service Chief.

Than Lwin Htun was recently in Burma, where he conducted an exclusive interview with Burmese President Thein Sein.


August/September 2007: Covering Burma’s Saffron Revolution [part 2], a Q&A with Than Lwin Htun, VOA’s Burmese Service Chief 

VOA Burmese chief, Than Lwin Htun with President Thein Sein

Q: What was your most memorable moment covering the Saffron Revolution in 2007?

A: A group of Buddhist monks marched to Suu Kyi’s residence where she was under house arrest. I remember it because one of our stringers followed the group of monks and was occasionally reporting to  us what was happening. The securities and policemen tried to prevent the monks from reaching Suu Kyi’s residence, but later on, they allowed the group to go on. Suu Kyi suddenly appeared at the gate. It was the first glance of her in years. It was a confusing but exciting moment for us. I vividly remember the scene because we haven’t seen her for ages.  The situation was quite tense in the beginning.

Q: What was VOA’s role in Burma in 2007? Have you seen that role change from 2007 to today?

A: There was an information and communication blockade by the authorities. People in Burma have no way to know what was happening outside of their township even in their neighborhood so they relied on us as an international broadcaster.

2007 was also the year where citizen journalism in Burma emerged. People started taking charge by using mobile phones to take evidence of what they saw or witnessed and tried to convey their message via us or the internet. I feel that the way of passing information in Burma changed and this has continued today.

Q: Five years ago, could you anticipate the changes that have happened in Burma this year?

A: No. the changes in Burma are unpredictable and most of the time, very sudden. For example, until September of 2011, VOA was portrayed as a public enemy on the back page advertisement in the national newspapers. Suddenly, that disappeared in October 2011, and in November 2011 I had a chance to go back to Burma and talk to the Burmese authorities. It was the first time in 24 years in my life that I went back to Burma. My work as a journalist, first at BBC, and then at VOA prevented me from going back previously.

Q: What is your view of the state of media freedom today in Burma?

A:   Recently, Burma has abolished its censorship board that used to scrutinize all of the press. However, censorship remains to some degree, because media has to go through a kind of self-censorship due to the looming threat of legal actions. People are saying they must take responsibility for what they write. For example, there is a case of the government ministry suing a newspaper for its coverage of officials’ corruptions, or sometimes newspapers are banned for a few weeks because some of their news coverage upset the authorities.  And Burma still does not have privately owned independent daily newspapers, nor independent radio/TV stations apart from weekly news journals.



For more information about VOA’s Burmese service, you can visit their blog, which features photos and a behind-the-scenes look at their work!

Q&A with Nancy Shwe, Director of RFA’s Burmese service

This week’s post on history is the first in a two-part series focused on recollections of reporting during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and discussion of the state of media freedom and society in Burma today. This week, Notebook interviewed Nancy Shwe, Director of Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service. RFA’s Burmese service won a Burke Award and a gold medal at the New York Festivals for its Saffron Revolution coverage.

See also part two, in which we interview Than Lwin Htun, VOA’s Burmese service chief about the same.

August/September 2007: Covering Burma’s Saffron Revolution [part 1], a Q&A with Nancy Shwe, Director of RFA’s Burmese service.

Q: What was your most memorable moment covering the Saffron Revolution in 2007?

A: We had began reporting in August on protests in Rangoon against the military junta when we were first told from an eyewitness that hundreds of Buddhist monks in Pakokku had begun to march in peaceful solidarity with the demonstrators. I remember how authorities were quick to respond, and we began to learn about monks being forcibly lassoed and tied, sometimes beaten. The eyewitness accounts of these incidents of mistreatment were very shocking given how revered and respected monks are in Burma.

For me, the other most memorable moment was Aung San Suu Kyi greeting the monks who marched to her home when she was under house arrest. It was an incredibly touching scene of her coming to the gate of her house and acknowledging the throngs of demonstrators there in person.

RFA Burmese Service Director Nancy Shwe
holding the gold medal, which the service won
for its Saffron Revolution coverage. Photo via RFA.

Q: What was RFA’s role in Burma in 2007? Have you seen that role change from 2007 to today?

A: RFA’s role was and still is to report the news with accuracy and speed to a public yearning to know what was and is happening in their country. Through our coverage of the Saffron Revolution, our journalists were keeping pace with rapid developments, hourly, every day. These day, with the changes happening in Burma, our reporters continue to keep pace for our listeners and audience.

There are some big differences between then and now. With the official lessening of media restrictions, we are fortunate now to have a team of reporters working within Burma instead of relying almost completely on news tips from citizen journalists and eye witnesses. But our role, delivering reliable news to the Burmese people, remains.

Q: Five years ago, could you anticipate the changes that have happened in Burma this year?

A: Not at all. To think Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest then, would be free and holding office in Burma’s parliament today would be a very unlikely prediction to make in 2007. I don’t think anyone could imagine the changes happening in Burma.

Q: What is your view of the state of media freedom today in Burma?

A: Media freedom is in a state of dramatic flux. Burma’s press is able to cover events, publish different perspectives, print the image of Aung San Suu Kyi – who was banned from appearing in any state-sanctioned publication until recently – and be critical. These are things that were unheard of just a little while ago. But the country’s censorship board still hasn’t relinquished control. At the same time, a newspaper, journal, or media outlet can be slapped down by a newly instated law designed to silence their voice.

The concept of media freedom is also very new for both sides, the government and the press. The government is not being reported on by an independent media. On the other side, high-quality, well sourced, and responsible journalism takes a little time to get a foothold and establish itself. It will be interesting to see how things progress and develop.



For more information on Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service, visit this comprehensive page on it and its history. RFA also did a post on the one-year anniversary of the Saffron Revolution, which can be read at this link.

August 31, 1983 – Remembering a Critical Cold War Episode

On the night of August 31, 1983, Bill Whitacre was given an urgent task: A South Korean commercial airplane had been shot down by the Soviet Union over the Sea of Japan, and VOA needed to inform its audience about the breaking news.

From Ethiopia to Vietnam, there are
75 RMSs around the world. Each RMS
consists of an antenna, a radio and a
computer attached to the Internet such
as the one pictured here.
[Photo provided by the Spectrum Management
Division of the Office of Engineering]

The downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 is considered one of the tensest moments of the Cold War – all 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, a sitting member of the U.S. Congress. As a frequency manager for Voice of America, Whitacre needed to ensure that VOA’s English and Korean broadcasting wouldn’t be disrupted by jamming – a form of censorship that disrupts the free flow of information by deliberately transmitting noise interference.

“We stayed up most of the night to broadcast it in Korean and English,” Whitacre remembered. “It was one of the most exciting and memorable moments of my career.”

Whitacre, who today serves as monitoring chief for the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has been fighting against jamming for more than 30 years. “What has remained constant is jamming,” Whitacre said noting that although the Cold War has since ended, there are still many countries that try to jam our broadcasts.

You can hear what jamming sounds like today at this link.

One technique to combat jamming, Whitacre explained, is to put the programming on multiple frequencies as it is “more difficult for a country to block everything.”

The Monitoring Data Entry System helps
monitors around the world determine the
signal strength, degradation, and signal
merit, with numbers from one to five.
A sample monitoring report follows.
[Photo provided by the Spectrum Management
Division of the IBB]

IBB’s monitoring division operates a network of 75 remote monitoring systems (RMSs) around the world to determine the reception quality for shortwave, medium wave and FM transmissions. Often placed on the rooftop of an embassy or private residence, each RMS consists of an antenna, a radio, and a computer connected to the Internet, with a rating system ranging from one to five to determine signal strength, degradation, and overall merit. For example, a rating of five indicates the best possible shortwave reception, while a rating of one means no transmission can be heard.

IBB also works to employ a wide range of media to get our message heard, specifically transmitting audio through satellite radio, which can be harder to jam.

From radio to satellite to the Internet, for Whitacre, the mission remains the same. “It’s all about delivering the best information with the best likelihood of reaching the audience.”

By Jenn Beard & Yimou Lee