Insider stories – Myanmar (Burma) and citizen journalism

Amidst the euphoria of citizen journalism content demonstrating to the world the brutality of the military junta in Myanmar and why, just as in 1988, this repressive regime through sheer terror and outright murder hold its grip on power, Dan Gillmor expresses a word of caution:

The questions of reliability and trust will be paramount in what’s coming out of Burma, Net or no Net. We are distinctly inclined to trust what we see from on-the-ground observers in cases such as this, where the regime is so odious that it’s tempting to believe it would commit any atrocity to preserve its power. We need to exercise some caution, and we need to sort out the reliable observers from the ones who will certainly use turmoil to push specific agendas. (Note: I am not pointing at anything in this case, just observing that it’s something to watch for.)

And even though the military seems to have cut off internet access, the stories, images and videos seem to be getting out. Other notable stories in this regard are:

A day to day account of the situation in Myanmar from the BBC including photos submitted by readers.
Burma’s cyber-dissidents, also from BBC
Ko Htike’s blog
Protests in Myanmar and Mobile Phones
Burma Digest
Democratic Voice of Burma

I’ve also written on how the Internet and web can be strategically used to challenge repressive regimes and encourage readers to pick up a copy of Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule, contends that the Internet is not necessarily a threat to authoritarian regimes.

This is a sobering thought and is perhaps one reason why, even though the grotesque suppression of democratic dissent in Myanmar is plastered on websites, the military junta will continue to rule, even though their power will inexorably wane over time, requiring in the meanwhile even more violence to keep dissent in check. An indelible and damning digital record of the military rule is now on the web and will hopefully galvanise sustained international action to overthrow the military and restore civilian rule.

Using the web and Internet for democracy – Burma and others

“Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky – captured at great personal risk on mobile phones – but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.”It is amazing how the Burmese are able through underground networks to get things from outside and inside,” says Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.“Before, they were moving things hand-to-hand and now they are using the internet – proxy websites, Google and YouTube and all these things.”

Just as RCTV defied the Venezuelan government’s censorship and my own work on the potential of the web and Internet to support democracy in Nepal suggests, blogs and mobile phones are now being used by Burmese pro-democracy dissidents, as this BBC news report highlights.

“Technology will make it increasingly difficult for the state to control the information its people receive,” said Ronald Reagan soon after stepping down as America’s president: “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip”.

I’ve written extensively about how the web, Internet and mobile phones can subvert repressive regimes and how simple, practical yet effective and sustainable ideas for ICT in peacebuilding can strengthen democracy. This has also been recognised by Freedom House in How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Struggle to Durable Democracy. And yet, what are the limits of online freedom and activism?However, as I note in Desperate for a Revolution:

The power of the internet and web is such that;

  • you can support these activities through open discussion on the web, which the organisations can then use as a measure of support for their work
  • you can flag initiatives you think are worth supporting financially through donations
  • you can flag projects that people can volunteer in to help build local capacities
  • you can use mobile technologies and Skype to create discussions amongst youth in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora on helping youth affected by the conflict
  • you can flag anecdotal stories from the field that engender hope
  • you can flag story ideas for the media to write on
  • bring to attention the issues of conflict and peace to those in urban areas not usually interested in thempost photos on Flickr that show communities engaged in initiatives that help strengthen democracy, development and human security
  • you can use meeting that bring together young bloggers to talk about ways that collaboratively highlight issues related to democracy and human rights
  • post soundbites and videos from personal interviews with mentors or those working in the field in Sinhala, Tamil and English
  • produce short documentaries that are pod-cast friendly – making content that’s hip and interesting to those in urban areas, but at the same time address issues of peace and conflict

Related posts:Nepal – Technology and DemocracyPublic Service Broadcasting – using technology for democracyBuilding peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projectsDefeating repressive regimesDefeating repressive regimes – Take 2Related stories from news media:Bloggers silenced as curbs bring internet blackout‘Open-Source Politics’ Taps Facebook for Myanmar Protests