On air: A rural revolution in Myanmar | 65 years DW | 65 years DW | DW | 17.05.2018
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65 years DW

On air: A rural revolution in Myanmar

Myanmar's first community radio station Khayae FM went on air at the beginning of 2018. Volunteers produce radio programs for 25,000 listeners on the outskirts of the capital Rangoon. DW Akademie supports the project.

By Kyle James, freelance advisor, DW Akademie: Most mornings these days, Ei Thinzar Khine and her mother ride Ei's moped to the market along the main road to Htan Tabin township, a rural district of Rangoon, the economic center of the country. They drive along the rice fields that surround her village. Loaded with salt, garlic, onions, coffee, shampoo and soap, the two women return to their family shop and restock. The family business is a combination of a grocery store, beauty salon and bicycle repair shop.

Radio for the people of Htantabin

Myanmar Markt in Yangon (Andreas Illmer)

Afterwards, the 21-year-old hops on her moped again. Her destination is a red TV antenna pole that soon appears behind the trees along the roadside. The Khayae FM studio is nearby. This is where Ei Thinzar Khine discovered her new passion: creating radio shows for the people of Htantabin.

“In the beginning, I had no idea what a community radio station was, but today I understand that many other radio stations are broadcasting for profit. But we work for the people. I like that,” she said.

Reporting on local issues

Khayae FM is a non-commercial, non-profit station catering to the needs of the residents of Htantabin. Volunteer reporters, presenters and technicians produce programs that appeal to local needs and interests. The goal is to share useful information and discuss local concerns in a language that residents understand.

An acquaintance told Ei about the new station and the volunteer opportunities there. Ei particularly likes the technology and equipment in the studio. She quickly learned how to use a mixer and to edit sound files on the computer. “At first I was afraid of even touching a computer but now it is becoming easier and I just want to learn more,” she said. 

And that is what she does every day. Khayae FM broadcasts live every afternoon for two hours - plus a repeat of the daily live show the next morning. Radio show topics include agriculture, education and cooking. There are also children's programs and announcements are made by the local non-governmental organization that operates the community radio station.

A milestone in media development

Khayae FM has come a long way. It took a minor revolution to set up the studio. Community radio stations were unthinkable under the military dictatorship in Myanmar. New freedoms only came with the democratization of the country. Broadcasting legislation that was adopted in 2015 explicitly allows for community media but the laws have not been put into action. “Many politicians are still afraid of too much media freedom,” says Thomas Bärthlein, DW Akademie project manager in Myanmar. “It takes a lot of time to overcome this skepticism.”

DW Akademie's proposal convinced the government to set up a joint pilot project. Together with Khayae FM, the ministry of information can now gain the experience needed to license more radio stations. Information Minister Pe Myint attended the launch of the station in February. 

Participants are highly motivated

Ei and the other volunteers are proud of their radio station. Nonetheless, they cannot afford to be around on a full-time basis so additional volunteers are urgently needed. A business plan is being drawn up and potential advertisers are waiting to buy advertising slots. DW Akademie provides the station with expert advice on business matters.

Ei’s enthusiasm has made an impression on others as well. She has won her family's support. At the end of the day in the studio, her mother makes tea for a group of volunteers. “Of course we also need our child to help out in our family shop,” she says, looking at her daughter. But she also understands that young people want to build something new together. “There is no way I could pull her away from the radio station now. She likes it so much,” adds her mother.

Christoph Jumpelt

Christoph Jumpelt

Head of Corporate Communications and Spokesperson

T. +49.228.429-2041