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Cablegate: Voice of America Tv Programming Back On the Air in Burma

VZCZCXYZ1023
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHGO #0685/01 2791040
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061040Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9528
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2305
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 5766
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 9370
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6955
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2739
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 4695
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS RANGOON 000685

SIPDIS, SENSITIVE
STATE FOR EAP/MLS; PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV PINR EAID PREL PHUM BM
SUBJECT: Voice of America TV programming back on the air in Burma

REF: 08RANGOON 951 (C)


Summary
-------

1. (SBU) As a result of Embassy outreach to the Ministry of
Information, the GOB has allowed state-owned television to broadcast
VOA-TV programs. The English language instruction series "Connect
with English" began daily broadcasts on Myanmar Radio and Television
(MRTV) the morning of October 1. This is the first U.S. program to
air on Burmese state-run television in 21 years, and we expect
others will follow. A Burmese pay TV channel, which currently shows
some American programming including CNN, is also open to adding new
American shows. Meanwhile, the Information Ministry official who
was instrumental in securing approvals for the VOA-TV programs is
urging increased U.S. training of Burmese journalists: "If you want
to change us, train us."

Advancing Public Diplomacy on TV
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) Last December, PAO and APAO visited the Ministry of
Information in Nay Pyi Taw during a round of mid-level courtesy
calls. At that initial meeting, U Ye Htut, Deputy Director General
of the Information and Public Relation Department (since promoted to
Director General), expressed interest in reintroducing U.S.-produced
English language instruction programs on MRTV. U Ye Htut commented
that until the 1988 government crackdown on pro-democracy
demonstrators, MRTV used to broadcast a popular language instruction
program called "Family Album USA." He also mentioned that this
meeting was his first interaction with a U.S. Embassy official in 20
years.

3. (SBU) Post subsequently presented the Ministry with sample
tapes of five programs currently aired on VOA-TV that could be made
available to MRTV's nationwide (terrestrial) broadcasting. The
Ministry selected two programs: "Connect with English" and
"Crossroads Cafe." The first episode of "Connect with English" went
on the air on October 1; "Crossroads Caf" is expected to be
broadcast beginning on October 31.

Introducing American Culture to a Mass Audience
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (SBU) "Connect with English" is meant to be used with a series
of textbooks (with the same title) for English language instruction.
Even without the accompanying texts, viewers get enough English
conversation and exposure to American culture that the program
serves a useful purpose. Working-level Information Ministry and
MRTV officials have told us they see the U.S. programming as playing
a dual purpose: improving spoken English among the general
population and serving as a counter-balance to the Korean and
Chinese produced programs that currently dominate the airwaves.

5. (SBU) It is still early to gauge any feedback but the fact that
MRTV is willing, after 20 years, to resume broadcasts of U.S.
programming provided by the Embassy is in itself something of a
breakthrough. VOA's global broadcasting rights for "Connect with
English" expires on October 29, at which time MRTV will replace it
with "Crossroads Cafe," another English language program geared
toward adult learners.

Desire for More Programming, Training
-------------------------------------

6. (SBU) In 2006 MRTV started a pay satellite channel, MRTV-4,
which includes programs such as Discovery Channel, National
Geographic, MTV, ESPN and CNN. MRTV-4 is available in limited
areas, but is accessible to any Burmese citizen who can afford the
registration and monthly costs. In an October 2 meeting with
Charge, U Ye Htut expressed a desire for even more American produced
programs for MRTV-4, such as the CSI series. Prior to 1988, MRTV
broadcasted such popular U.S. television series as Starsky and
Hutch, Charlie's Angels, and The Love Boat.

7. (SBU) Post has openly trained reporters and editors from
Burma's private (though heavily censored) newspapers in basic
journalism skills. When circumstances allow, we inform the Ministry
of Information and Press Scrutiny Board in advance, since they often
need to provide permission for the journalists to participate -- and
also at times run interference for us with police Special Branch.
We have also provided a trainer for several workshops arranged
through the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association; most of the
participants are from private media outlets, but roughly 25 percent
come from the state-owned media.
In the meeting with the Charge (as in previous meetings with Embassy
officials), U Ye Htut -- a former military officer -- has praised
our journalism training efforts and urged the U.S. to increase such
programs, including for those working for state-run media.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) This greater openness toward U.S. programming is driven
by forward thinking officials in the Ministry of Information,
particularly U Ye Htut, though it also reflects a recognition, at
least among bureaucrats, of the need to improve the country's
education. U Ye Htut admitted that the Information Minister
considers the VOA-TV broadcasts as a test case to see whether other
ministers (and presumably the senior generals) complain. If no such
criticism is forthcoming, the Minister may look for other avenues to
expand programming and cooperation with the United States. On
journalism training, U Ye Htut is candid in acknowledging the
shortcomings of Burma's controlled press and reporters' lack of
professionalism, and he is eager for the U.S. to help. As he has
said on many occasions, "If you want to change us, train us."


VAJDA

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