The recent crackdown in Burma continues to reverberate around the world. The bravery of the monks and the general population is a testament to the will of the human spirit.
The internet was a key factor in the dissemination of information. A new report from OpenNet Initiative, a leading group tasked to monitor web filtering and censorship, reveals the way in which the junta tries to suppress news:
The Burmese government has near-complete control over broadcast and print media. All domestic radio and television stations are state-owned and controlled.(23) While more than 100 print publications are now privately-owned,(24) the Ministry of Information limits licensing to media outlets that agree to print only approved material and submit to vigorous advance censorship by its Press Scrutiny and Registration Division.(25) The Printers and Publishers Registration Law is prodigious in scope, prohibiting the printing of anything “detrimental” to the state, “any descriptions which though factually correct, are unsuitable because of the time or circumstances of their writing”, and “any criticism of a non-constructive type of the work of government departments.”(26) According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, journalists seeking to write about a government ministry must name their source and obtain a letter of authorization from the ministry concerned before publication.(27)
Within this heavily controlled traditional media environment, the Internet has provided a limited means for free expression. With an upper estimate of just under 300,000 Internet users in 2005,(28) Burma is one of thirty countries that has less than 1 percent Internet penetration.(29) Nonetheless, the Internet had begun to enhance a bi-directional flow information and communication for many Burmese, especially the educated, urban elite. In recent years, Burmese have begun receiving information from overseas via basic Internet services such as blogs, chat, forums, and email. As a relatively cheap communication tool, much of the value of Internet is based on the availability of overseas Web sites and Internet services. These internationally hosted services also offer a means to communicate more securely.
Most users access the Internet at Internet cafés,(30) which have witnessed an “explosion of usage,” especially in Rangoon.(31) Anecdotally, it appears that nearly all Internet cafés have installed foreign-hosted proxy sites or servers and other circumvention tools.(32) The ‘G-lite revolution’, one of the names for the incipient movement of citizen journalists feeding information overseas, is coined after a proxy site for accessing Gmail (glite.sayni.net) that is reportedly ubiquitous in Burmese cyber cafés and “resides” on hundreds of servers inside Burma.(33) Citizen journalists and bloggers were actively uploading images and updates in the approximately 200 Internet cafés still open in the days before the Internet was shut down completely.(34)