Government Technology

Citizen Journalists Help Keep World's Attention on Burma

Burned Burma villiage

December 3, 2007 By



A burned village in Burma.


On November 20, in the largest offensive since 1997 in Karen State, north of Burma, hundreds of soldiers from the Burma Army killed over 370 men, women and children and displaced over 30,000 people, most of whom are now hiding in the jungles nearby.

Given that the military dictatorship in Burma has been attacking its own people for decades, killing thousands and leaving millions displaced, this is certainly not an isolated incident for those living in Burma or the hapless citizens of the Karen state. However, had it not been for the dozens of volunteers working for Free Burma Rangers, this report which yet again reveals one of the many brutal sides of Burma's ruling military junta, would have never been known to the world.

"We work in areas where there is no press, and often our reporters, risk their lives to report the atrocities of the Burmese army and their movements so that the world gets to know about them," says Nate Collins one of the officials of FBR.

A Thailand-based non-government organization, FBR's "mission is to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma" and using a network of indigenous field teams -- most of whom are volunteers -- that also provide medical, spiritual and educational resources to the displaced Burmese communities. FBR's biggest contribution to the plight of the downtrodden Burmese people is its fearless reports on human rights abuses, casualties and their humanitarian needs.

"The more the information comes out about what's happening in Burma, the clearer is the picture for the international relief organizations for them to respond with what is needed and where help is needed," says Collins.

This is the world of citizen journalism, which has finally arrived in Burma -- although to be accurate, not all these "citizen journalist" are actually citizens of the country once known as Burma and now called Myanmar.

In this age of technology-enabled seamless and instant reporting, citizen journalism is hardly new. But the fact that Myanmar's military junta -- considered as one of the world's most repressive regimes -- has completely curtailed freedom of speech and expression means that here citizen journalism is not just a growing phenomenon. It is also often the only source for free, independent information flowing from that country.

Increasingly, more people get to know what's going on here, not from the state-owned and controlled Burmese media, but from the dare devil reporting of entirely amateur reporters.

Using modern technologies like cell phones, laptops, and even satellite phones at times, hundreds of these volunteers -- many basically rookies -- are now on the news frontline, capturing images and reporting on the demonstrations and counter-attacks against the Burmese people. Their reports are regularly transmitted to dozens of blogs and sites out of the country.

Most brave and dodge the deadly military junta knowing full well that if they get caught, they will either be imprisoned for weeks or even shot. "Our sources are very aware of the risks, like arrests and tortures," says the acting news editor of Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based news agency that operates from Chiang Mai, an area near the Burma-Thai border. Irrawaddy claims most of its almost 200 stories a day come from rookie journalists. This includes not only budding journalists, writers, photographers and artists but also monks, politicians, students, diplomats, NGO workers, businessmen and even housewives. "Yet they march ahead with the responsibility of revealing the truth, strongly believing in practicing their right of freedom of expression -- possibly the only way to free Burma from its dictators."

Indeed, for over fifty years, the dictators of Burma have waged war against their own civilian population. It is a war backed by a military

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