Will Burma blogs and mobile phone footage continue to evade media ban?

With the Burmese government restricting visas to journalists, the web and mobile phones have played an important role in getting information out – The Seattle Times has reported that footage of the pro-democracy protests has sometimes been transmitted one frame at a time.  It also looks at the role played by the Democratic Voice of Burma, a small radio and television network Oslo, Norway, which has been at the forefront of receiving and broadcasting the information by satellite TV and shortwave radio.

Some foreign journalists have managed to work in Burma using tourist visas and the military junta does award a very small number of press visas. However, as Reporters Without Borders reports, many journalists are blacklisted and prevented from entering the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists complained on 14 September that a number of Burmese journalists had their mobile phones blocked.

Most news organisations have been heavily reliant on eye witness accounts of the protests. But the Southeast Asian Press Alliance expressed alarm at the disconnection of telephone and internet access and the impact it could have on the flow of information. The press freedom group also urged the Junta not to obstruct journalists covering or joining the protests.

Burma, according to a 2005 report by the Open Net Initiative implements one of the world’s most restrictive regimes of internet control. As Mathew Ingram writes, anyone posting photos on blogs or sending them via cellphone risks arrest or worse.  In stark contrast to the bloody military crackdown on the 1988 protests , however Ingram writes on his Globe and Mail blog that totalitarian regimes like the Burmese Junta can no longer prevent protesters getting information out.

The Guardian also applauds the role of “both old and new media” in ensuring that one of the world’s most reclusive regimes is being scrutinised. The Times has featured accounts  of “a few brave bloggers” who have continued writing about their experiences and the Independent examines how Burmese bloggers are “bearing witness to the unfolding revolution”.  AFP focuses on the impact of sites like YouTube which are being used by “tech-savvy university students” in the 200 or so internet cafes in Yangon that continued to operate who have been able so far to get around the internet ban.

The BBC and the Earth Times also look  at the critical role played by the internet and quote Ko Htike who told the BBC  that he is in contact with 10 people who are marching with the Buddhist monks who as soon as they get images or news go into internet cafes and send it to him.

Reporters Without Borders has appealed to the foreign media to to step up its coverage to step up its coverage and try to get journalists into the country “so that this dramatic situation is not played out behind closed doors”.

 The Telegraph has reported that despite the tightening of the internet ban  some Burmese bloggers are still getting information out, although the Guardian reports that the information flow has slowed down in the past 24 hours due to the reported closure of cybercafes and the disconnection of mobile telephones.

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