Burma: The Whole Web is Watching September 26, 2007Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Web Video, YouTube.
Tags: Activism, advocacy, Blogging, Burma, Journalism
The Burmese uprising is defining citizen journalism in Asia as the military junta face the biggest challenge to their rule in two decades. The outcome is unclear in the battle of wills between Burma’s two most powerful institutions, the military and the monk-hood. But one of the world’s most repressive regimes of Internet control now confronts global ramifications of a violent crackdown at a time when the country’s communication links to the outside world are stronger than ever before.
Besides the coverage of “old media” like Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press – hundreds of Burmese bloggers are using the Web to evade censors, and tell the world what is happening under the junta’s veil of secrecy. An army of young tech-savvy witnesses work around the clock to circumvent the censors, posting pictures and videos on blogs with blow-by-blow accounts of events on the ground almost as soon as the protests happen.
Burmese-born blogger Ko Htike, based in London, has transformed his blog into a virtual news agency. Ko Htike publishes pictures, video and information sent to him by a network of underground contacts within Burma. He told BBC News that his contacts are among the Buddhist monks taking part in the current protests. As soon as they get any images or news they pop into Internet cafes and send them to him.
Elsewhere on the Web, people inside Burma have been e-mailing global news Websites like BBC News and sending pictures showing the protests. Dissident blogs such as nicknayman has been banned, but a clone of this site has resurfaced.
A prolific blogger calling himself Moezack is now wanted by the junta for slipping through their security net and posting photographs of monks marching through Rangoon on the Web. His blog disappeared today after just one day of posting images of the monks’ protests.
Other sites like Irrawaddy, Zin Media and Mizzima News, a news group run by exiled dissidents in India, provide up-to-the-minute coverage. Activists are even using Facebook, the social networking site, to air news and mobilise support. A blog on Guardian Unlimited is serving as a reference point for Burmese bloggers. On Flickr, individuals say they are live-blogging the protest here, here and here.
The use of the Internet as a political tool is the key difference between the latest protests and the 1988 uprising, which was brutally repressed. Shooting peaceful demonstrators in the full-glare of YouTube is no longer something that even Burma’s allies can condone.
Bloggers are using proxy websites, Google and YouTube to post accounts and videos of street skirmishes captured by citizen witnesses. Reporters Without Borders says its handbook for cyber-dissidents provided to young Burmese was seized upon, copied and disseminated among a growing group of the young, politically active and computer-literate.
Burmese bloggers are teaching others to use foreign-hosted proxy sites – such as your.freedom.net and glite.sayni.net – to view blocked sites and tip-toe virtually unseen through cyberspace, swapping tricks and links on their pages. Analysts say although Web access is currently at less than 1% of the population, the junta underestimated its potential.
The junta has cut off the mobile phones of prominent opposition activists and of some journalists with the foreign media. It even bars access to web-based email. But bloggers represent a parallel network that is proving difficult to close. They have managed to broadcast news even though almost every website that carries information about the country is blocked.
In 1968, demonstrators on the streets of Chicago chanted “The whole world is watching!” as TV cameras beamed images of police cracking heads into homes everywhere. Four decades later, the whole world and the Web are watching Burma, to see if the power of principled protest is greater than the power which would unleash the fist. The whole Web is watching.
23 FEB 2008
The Web played a significant role in keeping the Burmese government accountable for its actions, noted the Internet & Democracy group based at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School:
“When we compare cases where the Internet has played a significant role in democratic struggles (such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine) and the case of Burma where the use of Internet for internal political mobilization is severely limited, we may be inclined to conclude that the Internet in Burma has largely been unsuccessful to bring about significant change towards democracy.
While this observation may largely be correct, this conclusion has the danger of overlooking one fundamental aspect of the fight towards democracy – one of holding governments accountable, no matter what kind of a government it is, democratic or autocratic…”
INTERNET & DEMOCRACY blogpost, “An Overlooked Dimension of Internet and Democracy?”