Would Anyone Notice a Burmese News Blackout?

There has been a lot of talk about how this month's protests are distinct from those of 1988 because “the world is watching,” the Internet changed everything, and the junta can no longer contain information. That’s true to some extent, and it’s breathtaking to see video of Yangon on CNN.

But while the world may be watching, I doubt most Burmese are. The country’s communications infrastructure is incredibly limited. Seven people out of 1,000 own televisions, and they’re not getting BBC. They’re watching MRTV-3: all government propaganda, all the time. It’s difficult to get a license for a satellite or an internet connection. Cell phones cost thousands of dollars; even most expats don’t carry them. I worked in relatively cosmopolitan Yangon, but a friend who worked in upper Burma once told me the villagers he worked with had never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi. The land lines rarely work, and when they do, sane people do not discuss political matters over them. It’s probably safe to assume you know more about what’s going down on Sule Pagoda Road than much of Burma does.

The flip side of this is a system of informal information networks that will be incredibly hard for the junta to shut down. It's getting more difficult for outside news agencies to obtain information as the regime cuts phone lines, but most Burmese people don't rely on those lines anyway.

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  • ||

    There were a couple of ex-pat journalists on the Lehrer Report last night, and they mentioned that the Burmese may be listening to VoA broadcasts.

    Kerry, do you know if the VoA had any real audience there?

  • ||

    Man, that TV website is downright creepy.

  • ||

    I'm with Brandybuck on that one. I'm a little nauseous, now.

  • Not a geography student||

    a friend who worked in upper Burma once told me the villagers he worked with had never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi

    I guess mark me down with those villagers.

  • NP||

    Just read that the Bush people imposed economic sanctions on the Burmese military thugs. They just never learn. (Though, to be fair to Bush, he's certainly not the only offender in this category.)

  • pistoffnick||

    Not a geography student wrote: I guess mark me down with those villagers.

    Aung San Suu Kyi is a person not a place.

    Google is a wonderful tool. Use it ;^)

  • Rhywun||

    Man, that TV website is downright creepy.

    I'm (darkly) amused at how repressive regimes always put drugs at the top of their shitlists--just like we do!

  • ||

    Wow, looking at that website reminds me how overblown (so far!) people's complaints about FoxNews are. I defy anyone to go to that website and then tell me they can't tell the difference between an independent news organization that happens to support one party/philosophy and a true propaganda arm of the government.

  • David Ross||

    John-David: That is because the propaganda arm of a repressive government doesn't have competition. That means the media outlet is free to hire the local mafioso's nephew, who has no talent in anything much less writing copy.

    Granted, that is speculation; but we do have political nepotism in the media here in the US. I give you Nick Coleman: whose daddy was the MN Senate Majority Leader. This was, apparently, adequate qualification for a job in the Star back in '73. Coleman's columns generally suck, particularly if you are of fiscal libertarian bent, but if you live in his state then you are stuck with him.

  • ||

    Aung San Suu Kyi is a person not a place.

    To be fair to Not a geography student, if he was a geography student, he probably would know this. The discussions in GEO [whatever] will eventually tend to include current events. Talking about the given environment of a country without talking about why its people made it that way would be like a math class where they only give you the answers without working out the problems.

  • Buddhist Dan T.||

    If the monks don't like living under their regime they can always be reincarnated somewhere else.

  • ||

    Yes. When something like this happened in Burma, only sources people can get some info what's going on are VOA and BBC Burmese Programs. People listen radio with care and talk to rach other about those NEWS- even though they may not be always confirmed or 100% correct. But LIVING IN RUMORS is way of life in BURMA!


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