Tag Archives: RFA

Voices from the Field: Gordon Burnett

RFA’s Gordon Burnett demonstrates how to use a video camera to colleagues in Cambodia

“I went to Cambodia in 2000 for the Millennial celebration.  There was going to be a party at Angkor Wat.  We were doing a live, remote feed of the celebration at Angkor Wat and sending it back to Washington, D.C.  I started traveling to do technical work in Cambodia in 1988, but this trip was unfortunate from the start.  First, they put me next to a kid from Philadelphia who had the flu.  By the time we reached our stop-over I was sick and by the time we reached Cambodia I was out.

Once I arrived, I had to go to a meeting.  I had forgotten that the ceilings can be very low in Cambodia, and I walked straight into a beam. Instant knockout! When I woke up, I had a mild concussion and the flu.

Later, I retired to my hotel and thought I would just sleep it all off.   After about 30 minutes in bed I got a call from my boss in D.C. asking me to get on the first plane to Siem Reap.  Apparently, the people organizing the party at Angkor Wat were distressed about the looming Millennium bug and needed some support.

With extensive experience in Cambodia, Gordon Burnett travels through the country via motorbike.

I got to Siem Reap on New Year’s Eve.  We did our set-up and testing.  All of a sudden, the cellphone that I had always used in Cambodia didn’t work and the satellites we were using to broadcast signal didn’t work. The Y2K bug started kicking in. I had to think quickly about what to do.  I had a mixer, two microphones, headphones, and a land line telephone.

I hooked the two microphones into the mixer to collect sound from the party, hooked the headphones into the mixer to receive the sound, and then duck taped the headphones to the telephone receiver.  I then called Washington, D.C., and they listened to the sound through the telephone call.  D.C. got the signal and told me it was the best signal they ever received from Cambodia! It worked!”


Gordon Burnett is a Production Engineer III at Radio Free Asia.  He has been with the service for nearly two decades, has done extensive work for RFA in Cambodia, and assisted in the design and implementation of RFA’s current video capability. Gordon also functions as Video Production Coordinator and Lead Trainer.

Today is Radio Free Asia’s anniversary! On March 12, 1994 Radio Free Asia was founded under the provisions of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act, as a private non-profit corporation. The original legislation called on RFA to carrying out radio broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Tibet and Vietnam.

The functions of RFA were established to:

1) Provide accurate and timely information, news and commentary about events in the respective countries of Asia and elsewhere; and
2) To be a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within Asian nations.

The original legislation also expressly obligated the government to “respect the professional independence and journalistic integrity of the broadcasters.” The Broadcasting Board of Governors implemented the firewall policies that remain in place to this day.

BBG On The Ground: Journalism Training In Burma

A packed classroom for VOA journalism trainer Bart Childs (upper left) in Burma.

A packed classroom for VOA journalism trainer Bart Childs (upper left) in Burma.


Both Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have experts on the ground this week training journalists in Burma – another sign of the increasing openness in the country. In another sign of increased openness in Burma, trainers from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were in country this week teaching the best practices of journalism. Read more on the BBG Strategy blog.

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.