The 1988 Revolution in Myanmar was not YouTubed. But given the incompetence of Burmese military net intelligence, their inconsistencies have given foreign media the ability to uncover and distribute information from within the regime. The net was introduced there in 2001, yet mostly only government officials have access to it for strictly professional uses or e-mail. By 2003, however, about 25,000 people had access to the “Myanmar Wide Web”, a local intranet set up by the regime and giving access to just a few thousand online publications, mostly on government service or administrative sites permitted by the authorities. The two ISPs have their inconsistencies, however. One blocks all international sites. The other blocks all regional sites.
Reporters without Borders describe how a guide for dissident bloggers recently provided to young Burmese was seized upon, copied and feverishly disseminated among a growing group of the young, politically active and computer-literate. One of those bloggers, Ko Htike, is based out of London, but publishes video, photo and other media and information from an underground network of monks and dissidents within the city. They send them this information via free hosting sites and emails through foreign proxy services, which are explicit in their mission to get information out of the country and into foreign media. Burmese bloggers commonly use your-freedom.net and glite.sayni.net to bypass the military paternalists.
The pictures that have surfaced are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky, captured at great personal risk on mobile phones or hidden cameras. But each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.
Yet the military is cracking down even harder on the independent media outlets. Today at 3:00 pm, most of the mobile phone access was cut and internet access was drastically reduced, after at least three monks were killed by gunfire. Foreign journalists and Reporters Without Borders now have an almost impossible task of documenting the military repression of pro-democracy demonstrations all over the city: from the Shwedagon Temple (where rallying has gone on for a month) to the street near the British Embassy, where the monks and demonstrators sought solace from the military goons who chased behind them in tanks, spraying tear gas and bullets into the air. Dozens were injured.
Foreign journalists have been rejected entry since the protests begun. And internet bandwidth is extremely slow. Some journalists from the 1988 protests are still imprisoned by the regime. U Win Tin, for example. Thirty more were imprisoned today, including an activist who, days before, was interviewed by the BBC. Despite retaining total control of the country’s only two internet providers and severely limiting internet usage, anyone who fails to register a computer with a state-sanctioned internet provider faces a 15-year prison term.
The government-owned Burmese media says in a broadcast warning the demonstrators of military action that the “demonstrators are extremists,” and describes the prayers as unattractively as it could. The domestic media, just like every other repressive media organization, is meant to quell concerns and have a normalizing effect on the population.