Monday, October 29, 2007

'Pulling the plug' in Burma - new insights into the blackout

Reporters Without Borders has hailed a report by Stephanie Wang of the OpenNet Initiative on the way the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), cut the country’s internet connection on 29 September. Founded by the universities of Harvard, Toronto, Oxford and Cambridge, the OpenNet Initiative studies internet filtering issues and the social impact of new technologies. Published on 22 October, Wang’s report, entitled "Pulling the Plug," describes the process of Burma’s isolation. For two weeks, a news blackout was imposed and most Burmese got their news from satellite TV and radio. Excerpt from the RSF report: "Control of the internet was facilitated by the fact that Burma’s only two ISPs, BaganNet and Myanmar Posts and Telecom (MPT), are state offshoots. The OpenNet Initiative report goes into detail about how the shutdown was implemented, with times, ISPs involved and methods used.
"'The junta attempted to sever the flow of information so that the picture of reality for people on both sides of the Burmese border would remain distorted," the report says. "As a result, the targets for censorship expanded exponentially from websites that are critical of the junta to any individual with a camera or cell phone and direct or indirect access to the internet.'
"The report says internet use increased within the country during the crisis because it was always possible to use censorship-evasion techniques. The intranet carried on functioning correctly and MPT provided a connection to the sites of military offices (ko-hite.blogspot.com, myochitmyanmar.blogspot.com and drlunswe.blogspot.com) and to those sites that offered no political news. Some sites such as dathana.blogspot.com and niknayman.blogspot.com did however post news about the demonstrations during the blackout that were not censored.
"'Many believe that the breakthrough uses of the internet over this period have enabled some irreversible gains," the report says. 'Multiple generations of Burmese living locally and abroad have found linkages to each other as blogging became increasingly recognised as a valuable source of information (...) even the vast majority of Burmese without access to or knowledge of the internet may have benefited from the enduring achievement of a small band of citizen bloggers and journalists.'"
Burma was ranked 164th out of 169 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2007 world press freedom index. Since the demonstrations got under way in September, eight journalists have been detained and a photographer has disappeared.

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