When Buddhist monks first started marching in protest in Myanmar, it became de rigueur for observers to comment that, in contrast to the last round of demonstrations almost 20 years ago, this time the world was getting a closer look at what was happening in the tightly controlled country, thanks to the liberating technologies of the Internet. Look, dissident Myanmar bloggers! Pictures smuggled over the Internet! Finally, visible cracks in the iron rule of the junta!
I always feel queasy when I read such statements. The exact same sentiment was expressed about the student-led protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989 -- only that time, the fax machine got credit for keeping the outside world in touch with the goings on in front of the Forbidden City. But that didn't stop the government from sending in the tanks.
And the Internet certainly didn't save the life of Nagai Kenji, a Japanese photojournalist who was shot and killed by Myanmar security forces yesterday. But thanks to the wonders of modern digital communications, and the Japan-watching blog Mutant Frog, we can watch clips of Japanese television broadcasting what look to be snippets of hand-held video shot from a nearby apartment building that capture the very moment of Nagai's death. The video was presumably zipped out of Myanmar before authorities cracked down on public Internet access.
Not for the squeamish.
Remind me, again, just how that liberating Internet technology is supposed to work?