Gizem Yarbil is an associate producer at Worldfocus.
It is difficult to be a journalist in Burma. The country has one of the worst freedom of press records in the world. According to the latest worldwide index on press freedom provided by Reporters Without Borders, Burma ranks 171 out of 175 countries.
The latest news out of the country validates Burma’s horrendous press freedom record. Just last week a military court in Burma sentenced a journalist to 13 years in prison for working with Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based media outlet that reports news from Burma.
Democratic Voice of Burma relies on a courageous group of journalists on the ground in Burma. These brave men and women try to report under the extremely harsh restrictions of the authoritative regime. They operate carefully below the radar of the local authorities and smuggle their material out of the country.
This year, a documentary film that portrays the plight of these audacious undercover journalists is in the running for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature. Burma VJ, directed by the Danish filmmaker Anders Ostergaard, tells the heroic story of Burma’s bold video journalists, armed with their battered handycams to report the uncensored truth from their country while risking torture and jail sentences.
They have to be swift and smart while filming on the streets as many around them belong to the military regime’s civil police. The footage is smuggled out of the country via the internet or trustworthy friends to Democratic Voice of Burma, where it gets distributed online to other global news outlets for free. The station also broadcasts in Burma via satellite which is now available to many in the country.
The film chronicles the events of the Saffron Revolution in September of 2007, when a group of monks started an anti-government protest on the streets of Rangoon which grew into a massive but peaceful uprising against the repressive regime. We follow the unfolding of the events through the lens of the undercover video journalists who put their lives at risk amid shooting military to bring the world’s attention to what’s happening in the country.
Their footage eventually reaches the international news outlets through Democratic Voice of Burma. As the world watches the brazen footage of the military beating and shooting at the monks and the civilians, the regime becomes aware of the power of the pictures and starts to clamp down on the journalists.
It is easy to take democracy and freedom for granted when we don’t know what it is to live without them. When I saw Burma VJ, it reminded of how important it is to live in a free, democratic society– so important that many in the world put their lives on the line for it.
Here is the trailer for Burma VJ:
– Gizem Yarbil