BBG Research Series: Media Use in Burma

The popularity of FM radio rose rapidly in Burma and radio continues to be the dominant source for news and information.

The new data shows that FM listenership continues to rise with 62.8% of Burmese saying they listened to radio in the past week. The results suggest that AM listeners have migrated heavily toward new options on the FM spectrum with just 18.3% of Burmese saying they used AM radio in the past week.  However, shortwave radio use remained steady in 2012, continuing to garner a strong weekly audience at 34% of all Burmese.

“The media environment remains anchored in old media,” said William Bell, Research Director at the International Broadcasting Bureau, “but we’re seeing some emerging developments.”

The findings show that one in six Burmese overall (16.6%) currently say they have working mobile phones in their household. This is up from 6% in 2010-2011, which suggests that mobile phone ownership is beginning to take off.

At the same time, though, the use of new media, including the Internet and SMS-based news services, remains rare. Though authorities have eased many Internet constraints and unlocked a wide variety of websites over the past year, just 4.1% of Burmese say they have ever used the Internet, while 1.3% used it in the last seven days.

Despite the country’s long history of censorship, Burmese do not currently appear to be apathetic about news. More than 78% said they accessed some type of news – whether via radio, TV, Internet, newspapers – at least once a week. Interestingly, more than half of Burmese adults (51.9%) said the domestic media is more trustworthy than it had been six months before the survey was conducted.

During her visit this week to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Burmese democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emphasized the importance of international broadcasting during this time of transition, noting, “This is the time we need all the help possible to make sure that our country keeps on the right path.”

The Broadcasting Board of Governors reaches Burma through both Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. In 2012, the total weekly reach of U.S. international broadcasters (USIB) among Burmese 15 and older across all languages, platforms and programs is 21.1%. VOA broadcasts 25 hours of radio and three hours of TV per week into Burma, while RFA provides 21 hours of radio and 2.5 hours of television. During the course of the historic Burmese election earlier this year, VOA and RFA provided broadcast and online coverage, including analysis and reaction to the process, the results, and the impact on the nation and its people.

The BBG’s global audience research program is conducted in partnership with Gallup. The data on Burma, like that on Iran, Tibet, and Nigeria released earlier this year, shows how communications technologies are evolving even as traditional broadcasts in radio and TV continue to play a primary role as news distribution platforms. This research informs the current and future operations of the agency’s broadcasts in 59 languages to more than 100 countries.


A central part of the BBG’s statutory mandate is to support freedom and democracy in a rapidly changing international environment. The ability of the media to report freely and accurately is critical in world affairs. Additionally, it is important for leaders and policy makers to understand how different populations around the globe view the quality, honesty and accuracy of their media, as well as how free they perceive their media to be.