The Knight News Challenge Information Blog

Where Innovative Ideas Get Funded at NewsChallenge.org

“The More They Try To Suppress The Situation, The More Will Come Out”

Posted by Jacqueline on September 28, 2007

Two days ago I wrote about how citizen journalists were taking advantage of technology to report what the real situation on the ground is in Myanmar/Burma, and although the current military junta regime has been trying to staunch the flow of information exiting the country, reports and photos are still making their way into the inboxes of reporters and bloggers outside the country.  It seems that the truth will come out, whatever the cost.

The Wall Street Journal covered it the story again today:

“In the age of YouTube, cellphone cameras and text messaging, technology is playing a critical role in helping news organizations and international groups follow Myanmar’s biggest protests in nearly two decades. Citizen witnesses are using cellphones and the Internet to beam out images of bloodied monks and street fires, subverting the Myanmar government’s effort to control media coverage and present a sanitized version of the uprising. The Associated Press reported yesterday that soldiers in Yangon fired automatic weapons into a crowd of demonstrators as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters converged in the capital. Wire services have reported the number of dead at nine, citing the state media. (See related article.)”

If you look at it philosophically, one of the key aspects of Web 2.0 is the committment to transparency – in the Information Age, it is no longer possible to completely control your public image, whether you’re a celebrity, a corporation, or even a government.  Whistle-blowers, citizen bloggers, and other investigative types will make the truth known; and although we don’t yet know how the political situation in Burma will play out, there is something wonderful about the fact that the current government cannot hide behind an iron curtain of silence, guarded borders, and a lack of technology/internet access.  The implicit promise that all actions will be performed with the global stage is a powerful message.

The Lede blog at the New York Times also discusses Myanmar/Burma, including the U.S. government’s reaction.  Author Mike Nizza writes:

“The White House is not buying that technical difficulties caused the internet shutdown in Myanmar today. “They don’t want the world to see what is going on there,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman.

In another sign of a government campaign to extinguish media coverage, a witness told The Irrawaddy (one of the blogs posting citizen reports) that soldiers were “singling out people with cameras” today.”

So how is this related the Knight Foundation’s challenge?  Figuring out a way to channel  and organize all the information coming out of Burma (and similar situations that unfortunately, will probably still occur in other nations) and making it possible for citizen journalists to work together and share information in a safe, protected (read: totally anonymous with encrypted IP addresses) fashion.  Instead of focusing on technology that makes people’s lives a little easier, a development like this could make a very real life-or-death difference.

*This is probably painfully obvious, but some of the links in the above stories include rather graphic images and video clips, so consider yourself warned.*

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