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Media: Burma Vj and the reasons to report

March 3, 2010

I just saw an incredible documentary called Burma VJ. It tells the story of a network of clandestine journalists that reported on the recent uprisings against the military regime in Burma. The totalitarian regime can only be contested by a civil society that is too scared to even talk to each other, and by an international community that is largely unaware, uninterested, and unable to take any action. And by 400.000 Buddhist monks. All images of the abuses of power are priceless: they represent a hope that because it was recorded and made public, it will never have to be recorded again. We realize how the essence of journalism lies within the promise of publication. Articles and videos and pictures are produced only because they are going to be made public, which literally means that they will become property of the public.

In Burma VJ we see how all agents of the regime are instructed to obsessively persecute anyone who has a camera. In a country without witnesses power can be total, and History becomes a blank sheet for the regime to write. Apart from the social concerns raised, it is also inevitable to think about the essence of journalism. The act of shooting video puts their lives at risk (some are serving life sentences), but they stubbornly do it aware of the power of journalism in a time of global media. From the point of view of the reporter, would it make any sense to charge for this images? This life-risking activity is not conducted as a result of economic calculations, but out of desperate need to denounce.

Seeing Burma VJ makes self evident that a journalist is someone who is willing to get in trouble for the public interest, to put it mildly. To put into perspective the conversation about the future of journalism we need to compare the figure of Burma VJs who risk their lives to produce and divulgate the story of their people, with the figure of the power addicted media mogul that shamelessly whines about diminishing returns. There is just no sense of proportion between the two characters; the idea that they are both journalistic is just too hard to swallow. The mogul ends up resembling the totalitarian dictator that Burma journalists fight: a powerful figure that seeks to control and limit the spread of information.

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