Burma and BBC agree way forward

Myint Swe and Tin Har Swe of BBC Burmese, Peter Horrocks, Moe Thuzar, Bill Hayton and Media Action's Kathryn Tomlinson mark the occasion at NBH Myint Swe and Tin Har Swe of BBC Burmese, Peter Horrocks, Moe Thuzar, Bill Hayton and Media Action's Kathryn Tomlinson gather for 'significant moment'

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The BBC and the Burmese authorities have formalised their relationship, which has been developing over the past year.

Global News and Media Action signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma's state broadcaster, Myanmar Radio and TV, on Tuesday at New Broadcasting House.

It paves the way for the BBC to extend the reach of its English language and Myanmar language content throughout Burma.

And it endorses the work of Media Action, the BBC's overseas development charity, to continue to provide technical and editorial training to Burmese journalists.

It's the latest step by Burma - also known as Myanmar - to loosen the grip on its media, which has endured state censorship and rigid control for decades.

Peter Horrocks, the global news director who signed the document with MRTV's deputy director of tv Moe Thuzar Aung, described it as a 'significant moment'.

Peter Horrocks, director of Global News, and Daw Moe Thuzar of Myanmar Radio and TV sign the memorandum of understanding Peter Horrocks and MRTV's Daw Moe Thuzar sign the memorandum of understanding

'I look forward to being able to work with you across a range of activities,' he told Daw Moe.

News sent by fax

Until recently, the state broadcaster simply read the news supplied to it by the state-owned news agency.

But things are slowly changing, thanks to the government's inclination for progress and the help of the BBC's Bill Hayton.

Hayton has been training MRTV staff to become impartial reporters and broadcasters since February.

'We've just formed a newsgathering department - the first time there's been one,' he said. 'Newsgathering used to be a fax in the corner of the office.'

It has transformed the senior editorial role of Daw Moe, who is now required to use her editorial judgement.

'The biggest challenge is to take responsibility for the news,' she admitted. 'It was not my concern in the past. I didn't have to worry whether it was balanced or accurate.'

Tin Htar Swe, head of BBC Burmese, believed the five year agreement represented a 'huge improvement' in relations between Burma and the BBC.

Bureau dream

'Our journalism has been officially recognised,' she said, adding that the Burmese service had been working informally with MRTV for several months.

'MRTV is ready and willing to collaborate with the BBC - there's lots of things we can do together.'

The BBC launched three pay tv channels in Burma on New Year's Day, with World Service in Asia in English going out on the same platform.

And the BBC became the first international news organisation to deliver news to mobile phones in Burma in June.

Other developments may follow, while the government is believed to be drafting new broadcasting laws that could release MRTV from Ministry of Information control and transform it into a public service broadcaster.

Daw Swe hoped it would take Burma's relationship with the BBC to another level.

'It's our dream, our hope, that one day we will have a BBC bureau in Burma,' she said.

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