It was raining in Rangoon in the first film I watched yesterday. Monks with bare feet and shaved heads walked through the street among crowds of people carrying umbrellas. Most of them looked very young and vulnerable, their wet clothes clinging to slim bodies. Even though I had just looked at a spectacular photograph of the monks spread across the centre pages of the Guardian there was something startling about seeing them moving across the screen in front of me right here in the safety of my Edinburgh home.
Today filmed fragments on YouTube, Reuters and the Guardian show monks and their supporting masses moving among flames and smoke. The military has struck. Aljazeera website reports that seven people may be dead, three of them monks.
I am ashamed I know so little about the struggle for democracy in a far off country. I do not even know whether it is right to call it Burma (as the Western press tends to) or Myanmar as used by the UN and Aljazeerah. According to the BBC, Myanmar is a name imposed by the military junta so it is more sympathetic to use the name bequeathed by British imperialism.
I am just moved by the impact of these images on my screen; a distant news story becomes human as young men and women file past my desk in baseball caps and t shirts, sandals and jeans. One stops to raise a thumb at the camera smiling broadly. Smiling at me.
All the more powerful because the pictures are not BBC perfect. The video I watched first was made for Reuters by someone driving through the streets of Rangoon, and there are others on YouTube filmed in secret on mobile phones. Some doing it apparently simply because they can: “By posting this video, I am in no form or other making a political statement. I am simply uploading rare footage that might be of interest to a number of viewers out there.” (see YouTube)
But the unstoppable internet gives new hope to countries fighting for democracy. Aljazeera carries a report about the exiled radio and tv station, Democratic Voice of Burma broadcasting from Oslo with the help of videos smuggled out of the country.
Yesterday I clicked on the film because I am intrigued by the way old media is using new technology to bring new life to their news coverage. Now, I have no choice. I feel a direct connection with other human beings that reading a newspaper or watching the television rarely brings.