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Bad News at the VOA

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Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 22:43:39 -0800


December 7, 1995

     When BurmaNet started "broadcasting" over the
Internet two years ago, we intended to provide accurate
coverage of Burma, anonymously and with a minimal
amount of editorializing.  However, the strong
appearance of misconduct by U.S. Government officials
at the Voice of America's Burmese-language Service
warrants editorial comment.


     The people in Burma exist in an police state and
the radio is their only tenuous link to the free world. 
They get their news from the radio.  Aung San Suu Kyi
speaks to them over the radio and they also hear what
the rest of the world says about their government over
the radio.  Because it is so important, broadcasters
like the Voice of America's (VOA) Burmese language
service have a special responsibility to report the
news fully and accurately.  But, the VOA is failing in
its responsibility.  Worse, it is trying to fail.

     The US Embassy in Rangoon cabled Washington last
week to complain about an apparent pro-regime bias in
VOA Burmese-language broadcasts.  The Embassy is
complaining about a series of reports filed by the
Burmese-language Service Chief Myint Zaw Lwin.  Myint
Zaw Lwin, an American citizen of Burmese birth, is in
Rangoon on a special three-month visa to cover Burma in
the aftermath of Daw Suu's release.  Instead of
reporting on the opposition, however, she has used most
of her stories to profile (sympathetically) various
leaders of the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC), and talk about business in Burma.  In one
particulary egregious piece of "journalism," she
broadcast a seventeen-minute interview with the wife of
Burma's secret police chief, Gen. Khin Nyunt.

     In addition to the biased broadcasts, the Embassy
is indignant over Myint Zaw Lwin's recent appearance on
the cover of the "New Light of Myanmar." She was
pictured handing over a large sum of kyat for
charitable purposes to Secretary-1, Khin Nyunt. 
American policy is to treat the SLORC as a pariah.  The
image of an American official donating money to the
head of Burma's secret police destroys the efforts of
diplomats trying to carry out the American policy. 
It's not the only favor she's doing for Khin Nyunt. 
While in Rangoon, the VOA official is staying at the
hotel owned by the secret policeman, the Mya Yeik Nyo. 
At $120 per night for 3 months (billed to the US
Government), it is excessive by Rangoon standards. 

     Under its current leadership, there have been numerous and
long-standing charges that the Burmese-language service is violating the
VOA's own charter and rules.  A spokesman for the All-Burma Student's
Democratic Front said it this way in a recent letter: 

     At the moment many [VOA] programs are giving a lot
     favour for the Slorc.  For example, when Khin
     Maung Htay visited Burma, he made many interviews
     with pro-Slorc people and almost all (about 10
     interviews) are put on the air while we found only
     one interview with Aung San Suu Kyi that he did
     and VOA put on air for democratic movement. It is
     practically 1:10 between democracy and dictator.

     Others who accuse the VOA of bias are the elected
government in exile, Burmese-American activists, exiled
journalists in Bangkok and leaders of the National
League for Democracy in Rangoon.  They voice the same
complaint--the Burmese-language service is pro-SLORC. 
Specific documented allegations include the deliberate
censoring of Aung San Suu Kyi's views, a pattern of
biased and inaccurate reports, unwillingness to air the
voices of the opposition and an unseemly fawning
attitude towards Burma's generals.

     There are more damning allegations than those of
bias at the VOA or Myint Zaw Lwin's taste in company,
charities or lodging.  According to Delip Kumar, who
defected from the Burmese embassy in Washington last
month, Myint Zaw Lwin "is the informer of the [Burmese]
embassy."  If his allegations are correct, a Myint Zaw
Lwin is regularly passing information on the activities
of Burmese in the pro-democracy movement to Col. Kyi
Tun, Burma's Military Attache in Washington, and Tun
Naing, the intelligence sergeant in the attache's
office.  Some of the Burmese activists allegedly being
reported on are American citizens and many still have
families in Burma.

     If there is any merit to these allegations, the
issue isn't bad judgement or bias.  It's something akin
to espionage.  US Government officials should not
secretly pass information to hostile regimes that could
foreseeably harm American citizens or endanger their
families.  Much like the Aldrich Ames affair, the first
priority was to determine whether the accusation is
true and if so, whether anyone was harmed.  After that,
the VOA should clean up its Burmese-language service,
or shut it down.   As the VOA's own rules for Handling
State Controlled Media states, "These countries [i.e.
dictatorships] disseminate their own propaganda.  We do
not do it for them."


The gravity of the charges aired in this editorial
warrant a departure from BurmaNet's tradition of
anonymity.  In the United States, unlike in SLORC's
Burma, those accused have a right to know who their
accusers are.  Anyone with questions about this
editorial should contact its author.

 /signed  Douglas Steele
          Washington, DC
          December 7, 1995

          (202) 234-0427


To restore its credibility, the VOA needs to take
immediate steps to:

     determine whether the allegations made by Delip
     Kumar have any merit.  If there is merit to the
     allegations, VOA then needs to--

     determine whether any American citizens or the
     families of citizens have been harmed or put at

     determine whether there is a pattern of pro-SLORC
     editorial biased or inaccurate reporting by the
     Burmese-language service,

     determine whether any other US officials knew or
     should have known about bias at the VOA or of a
     possible inappropriate relationship between Myint
     Zaw Lwin and Burmese intelligence officials,

     determine whether there is any merit to the
     allegations that Myint Zaw Lwin's husband, a
     senior official at the US Information Agency, has
     inappropriately sought to obstruct enquiries into
     the conduct of Burmese-language service


To contact the VOA:

 Jesse Cowan, Director
 Voice of America
 330 Independence Avenue, SW
 Washington, DC 20547
 Tel: (202) 401-1493
 Fax: (202) 401-1494