The power of storytelling in Myanmar

September 28th, 2007 by kathy

Storytelling. That’s what SMITH is all about. So when I read this story from The Wall Street Journal, I knew I had to share it with my fellow SMITHs.

Citizen journalists in Myanmar are risking their own lives to give a play-by-play account of the deadly crackdown against thousands of peaceful protesters (including Buddhist monks) by transmitting messages via YouTube, text messages, blogs, or cell phone cameras, to news outlets around the world.

Another blog was updated at 3 p.m. Myanmar time yesterday with a few English lines: “Right now they’re using fire engines and hitting people and dragging them onto E2000 trucks and most of them are girls and people are shouting.” Below the post is a blurry photo of trucks with the caption, “This is how they come out and try to kill people.”

According the the article, the last time there was a protest of this scale, the world only heard about it from “diplomats and official media.” But this time around, in the information age, news is spreading fast. And despite concerns surrounding the validity of “Citizen Journalism,” it’s clear that in an environment where reporters have minimal or no access, it’s up to the people who are on the front lines, living it, to tell their story. What’s even more impressive, and speaks to their determination to have their voices heard, is the fact that it isn’t easy to do anything very technical (i.e. streaming video) in Myanmar:

Myanmar is hardly a technological hub. Cellphones are expensive, and the Internet penetration rate is less than 1%. Even before the recent clash, the government has taken serious steps to censor Internet content, blocking access to popular foreign news and email services. A 2005 report by the Open Net Initiative, run out of several universities, said that Myanmar’s State Peace and Development Council has implemented “one of the world’s most restrictive regimes of Internet control.”

Let’s hope that despite everything going on, more citizens continue to speak out and share their stories with the world.


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