Track­ing the Saf­fron Revo­lu­tion and Cy­clone Nar­gis

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Mizzima was to come into its own dur­ing the crises that be­fell Myan­mar in the early 2000s – one man-made, the other a force of na­ture.

Mem­o­ries fade and it is easy to for­get that when Bud­dhist monks took to the streets of Myan­mar back in 2007, the coun­try was still un­der mil­i­tary rule and the abil­ity to get news out to an in­ter-na­tional and lo­cal au­di­ence was ex­tremely lim­ited.

By the time Burmese troops opened fire on un­armed de­mon­stra­tors in Septem­ber 2007, the vio-lent cul­mi­na­tion of weeks of pro-democ­racy protests, Mizzima was well un­der­way pub­lish­ing break-ing news to the out­side world.

In terms of over­throw­ing the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship or bring­ing drastic change to the po­lit­i­cally frac-tured na­tion, the Saf­fron Revo­lu­tion ul­ti­mately fell short of its im­me­di­ate goals. How­ever, it was also very much a suc­cess story. One as­pect of that suc­cess was wit­nessed in the form of Mizzima and the other ex­ile-based me­dia, through which the unfolding events in Burma in late Septem­ber were re­mark­ably and ex­ten­sively cap­tured in words, pic­tures and video thanks to the heroic ef­forts of stringers on the ground.

This stood in stark con­trast to the ear­lier throes of the democ­racy move­ment in 1988, when imag-es and news from the streets of Yangon failed to as­sert them­selves onto tele­vi­sion screens and the front pages of the world’s news­pa­pers. The sto­ries and images of the 2007 up­ris­ing cap­tured the hearts and minds of not just Burmese, but peo­ple from all cor­ners of the world.

And Mizzima, stretch­ing its then ex­is­tent assets to their fullest, was one of the lead­ing news agen-cies that brought the sto­ries to the pub­lic.

At the height of the protests and the mil­i­tary’s en­su­ing crack­down on protesters, daily reader vis­its to Mizzima’s English lan­guage web­site rose dra­mat­i­cally from some 2,500 per day be­fore the monks took en masse to the streets of Burma, to 300,000

on Septem­ber 27, the day when the Myan­mar mil­i­tary and riot po­lice bru­tally put an end to any hopes for change.

Peo­ple from all cor­ners of the world turned to Mizzima for news, pic­tures and anal­y­sis of the events unfolding in­side Burma, with vis­i­tors from Sin­ga­pore, the United States and Thai­land top­ping the list.

Sub­scrip­tion re­quests came in from as far afield as Hawaii in the United States and Ankara, Tur­key. There was an of­fer for ed­i­to­rial as­sis­tance from South Africa, well-wish­ers from Aus­tralia and mes-sages of sol­i­dar­ity with the work of Mizzima’s team from read­ers in Italy and France. From Ger­many a reader wrote in the midst of the on­go­ing mil­i­tary crack­down: “I am struck by the poignancy of your re­portage and pho­tog­ra­phy. I am deeply proud of the Burmese monks and their sup­port­ers.”

Myan­mar govern­ment cen­sors closely mon­i­tored In­ter­net ac­tiv­ity, block­ing sev­eral news ser­vices – in­clud­ing Mizzima’s lo­cal ser­vice. Mizzima it­self had been pub­licly con­demned prior to the dra­matic events of 2007 by the junta’s In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter. Yet in­side Myan­mar, at a crit­i­cal junc­ture for the coun­try’s fu­ture, a per­son, or per­sons, took it upon them­selves to cre­ate a replica of the Miz-zima Burmese web­page to al­low In­ter­net users in Myan­mar to view cov­er­age of the protests via proxy.

Ad­di­tion­ally, ma­jor in­ter­na­tional news ser­vices with bud­gets and re­sources far out­strip­ping any-thing Mizzima could dream of, turned to the Burmese ex­ile-run me­dia for con­tent on what was tran­spir­ing in Yangon and through­out the coun­try. Reuters, BBC and CNN all re­quested ma­te­rial and interviews with Mizzima ed­i­tors at this volatile time in the coun­try’s his­tory.

The BBC, hav­ing cir­cu­lated a re­quest for images from the streets of Myan­mar, was greeted with sug­ges­tions to ref­er­ence Mizzima’s photo blog site.

But it was not only ma­jor news pub­li­ca­tions. The story of tens of thou­sands of Burmese ci­ti­zens ral-ly­ing around a pil­lar of monks, civil­ians link­ing hands on ei­ther flank of a river of saf­fron robes, touched peo­ple around the world. Re­quests for in­for­ma­tion and the right to re­print Mizzima mate-rial came for­ward from the likes of Worker’s Cause, a left­ist Brazil­ian pub­li­ca­tion, as well as from “the big­gest daily news­pa­per” in Slove­nia.

From the early days of rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity and mod­est out­reach, Mizzima had defini­tively come of age with a size­able num­ber of re­porters and ed­i­tors on board.

It did not take long for the growth of Mizzima to pay div­i­dends. One re­sult of the 2007 up­ris­ing was to im­pel Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ing junta to pro­ceed apace with their “7-step roadmap to democ­racy” in an ef­fort to quell mount­ing in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism of its continued heavy-handed rule.

In Fe­bru­ary of 2008, state me­dia let it be known that a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum was to be held in three months’ time in May – for a con­sti­tu­tion that took 14 years to write through a process that failed to in­clude many voices and par­ties, most no­tably that of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy.

Myan­mar’s in­de­pen­dent me­dia com­mu­nity sprang to ac­tion. Mizzima, send­ing ad­di­tional re­porters in­side Burma to cover the pro­ceed­ings, pro­duced spe­cial ref­er­en­dum cov­er­age to ed­u­cate and in-form vot­ers and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as to the con­tent of the junta’s

draft con­sti­tu­tion and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of its ap­proval. This ma­te­rial was col­lated along with a col­lec­tion of “Vote ‘No’” songs onto CDs and thumb drives and dis­trib­uted in­side and out­side Myan­mar.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mizzima was able to pub­lish an opin­ion poll of prospec­tive vot­ers as to their views of the con­sti­tu­tion – the re­sults of which dras­ti­cally clashed with the pur­ported “over 92 per­cent ap-proval” the junta even­tu­ally claimed was garnered. Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey con­ducted by Mizzima in the days im­me­di­ately lead­ing up to the May 10 ref­er­en­dum date, sup­port for the ref­er­en­dum con­sti­tuted a mere 17 per­cent of the elec­torate, with 28 per­cent stat­ing their de­cided dis­ap­proval of the draft mil­i­tary-writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion.

Yet, as fate would have it, Mizzima’s full po­ten­tial in cov­er­ing events in Burma was re­al­ized for an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent story. Just one week be­fore the ref­er­en­dum was to take place, a dev­as­tat­ing cy­clone tore through Myan­mar’s Aye­yarwady and Yangon Di­vi­sions.

Cy­clone Nar­gis rav­aged the coun­try from May 2 to 3, leav­ing tens of thou­sands dead and miss­ing and as many as 1 mil­lion home­less.

With its eye ever-trained on events unfolding in Myan­mar, Mizzima was not caught en­tirely una-ware – un­like most ma­jor news out­lets. Re­port­ing on the pos­si­ble dan­ger of the storm days be­fore it made land­fall, Mizzima’s lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for May 10th’s con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum was eas­ily re­fo­cused in or­der to cover the ef­fects of Cy­clone Nar­gis and the unfolding sto­ries of the gov­ern-ment and pub­lic’s re­sponse to the hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter and the ef­forts of the in­ter­na­tional com-mu­nity to come to the aid of those af­flicted by Nar­gis – whose fi­nal death toll ap­proached 130,000, while plac­ing an ad­di­tional two mil­lion peo­ple in need of relief and launch­ing a vast cam-paign of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion that lo­cal non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions es­ti­mated would take some five years to com­plete.

Partly ow­ing to tech­no­log­i­cal and labour ad­vances made pos­si­ble in the wake of the Saf­fron Revolu-tion, Mizzima was able to pro­vide in-depth, “Live” cov­er­age of Cy­clone Nar­gis. A spe­cial sec­tion was added to the web­sites to fa­cil­i­tate the col­la­tion of news and sto­ries as­so­ci­ated with the cy­clone, while the en­hanced ca­pac­ity of Mizzima to re­lay vis­ual images from in­side Myan­mar to the rest of the world spawned the in­no­va­tion of Mizzima’s fourth do­main, www. mizzimapho­to.com.

Burmese and for­eign jour­nal­ists on Mizzima’s pay­roll were able to pen­e­trate the delta re­gion, the lat­ter in­creas­ingly op­er­at­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the es­tab­lished in­for­mal net­work of Mizzima con-tacts in the lo­cal me­dia in­dus­try, as the mil­i­tary govern­ment me­thod­i­cally sought to cor­don off the worst af­fected ar­eas in a fur­ther ef­fort to stem the flow of in­for­ma­tion.

Mizzima pro­vided much-needed insight into the dev­as­ta­tion and the hu­man cost dur­ing a pe­riod when the govern­ment was try­ing to play down the dam­age.

Bud­dhist monks take to the streets of Yangon dur­ing the 2007 so-called Saf­fron Revo­lu­tion. Mizzima came into its own by get­ting sto­ries and pho­tos out to in­form the out­side world. Photo: EPA

De­mon­stra­tors take to the streets dur­ing the Saf­fron Revo­lu­tion. Photo: EPA

Stringers in Yangon pro­vided pho­tos and re­ports about the demon­stra­tions in 2017. Photo: Mizzima

A fam­ily sits in the wreck­age of their dev­as­tated home fol­low­ing Cy­clone Nar­gis. Photo: EPA

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