IN A LAND OF LIMITED electricity, radio is a lifeline. Millions of Burmese rely on the airwaves for their main source of news, commentary, and insight into events beyond their small and often remote communities.
Ah Mee, a radio and video reporter and ethnic Lisu from Kachin State, has an acute sense of what it’s like to live in territories still steeped in virtual silence.
“In the whole Kachin State, there are maybe a handful of journalists,” she said “It’s similar in Shan State. It’s just not enough.”
Basic tasks pose major challenges for journalists: it recently took Ah Mee five hours to complete a 12-mile journey by motorbike in Shan State. More pressingly, there are security concerns, as local authorities in the Shan and Kachin States remain suspicious of reporters. “I often don’t feel it’s safe to show my media card, so I hide it,” she said.
She hopes to one day have her own radio or TV show for youth, in order to help make a dent in the deprivation she sees during her travels in ethnic areas. Across these regions, she says, education levels are low, political awareness is lacking, and few have relationships beyond their communities.
“Young people leave school at around Grade 4. They are missing so much- it’s my dream to have a show that reaches them.”
Until then, she broadcasts stories on topics such as youth, women, and development for the Burmese language broadcasts of Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), all Burmese-language radio services that reach national and ethnic audiences.
From Fiction to Fact
A one-time migrant worker in Chiang Mai, Ah Mee’s road to a radio career began when she got part-time work as an actor on BBC Burmese radio dramas. The shows incorporated messaging on health issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. In many of the rural communities in which these programs were broadcast, knowledge gaps were severe, and the connection between malaria and mosquitoes was not yet understood.
With the help of an Internews training, Ah Mee moved into writing scripts for radio stories with the Network Media Group, one of several small news outlets based in Chiang Mai that in turn supplied radio stories to larger Burmese-language services.
The 2010 training taught her to write better news scripts and achieve quality sound recordings even with limited equipment. She also began to learn how to produce more complex feature packages linking different voices and sound effects.
By 2011, she was the main presenter and reporter for a VOA news program, and later became a key reporter on Pansagar (Flower), a show covering women’s issues for the RFA.
Sharing Experiences, Contact, and Feedback
Still, she wanted to learn more, so she joined an Internews intensive two-month News Lab training later that year that taught journalists to produce quality output in a fast-paced “real-time” daily news environment.
It was especially useful, she said, to bring together journalists from inside the country with those based in Chiang Mai and border areas. “We could share experiences and sources,” she explained. “Working from Thailand, we often couldn’t contact official sources inside the country, or they wouldn’t talk to us. But the reporters based inside Burma shared their sources with us, and we shared ours with them.”
The training also introduced her to the concept of newsroom management, and the benefits of holding regular newsroom meetings. Now, she and her colleagues based in different locations in border areas in Thailand hold Skype meetings twice a week. “It’s very useful because we share information and can help each other with contacts and ideas.”
Receiving constructive criticism from fellow journalists several times a week was also another useful part of the training. “Before that, if I’m honest, l wasn’t careful about re-reading my stories after I’d written them,” she admitted. “At the NewsLab, there were thirteen people looking at your work, asking, ‘Why didn’t you ask this question?’ Or saying, ‘Maybe you should have done that.”‘
“It was good for me to get that feedback,” she added. “Now, my group and I do regular feedback sessions.”
Read the full report – New Freedoms, New Challenges – with all eleven journalist profiles.