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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) this week published its annual prison census, which puts the spotlight on imprisoned journalists from around the world. 2008 marks the first year in which the report is dominated by online journalists, with 45 percent of those jailed bloggers, online reporters or editors. And the report makes clear that repressive regimes are increasingly targeting online video makers.
The findings serve to show how quickly online all forms of online media are gaining importance. When it comes to online video, many repressive regimes are afraid of the worldwide audience garnered by sites like YouTube, using the same laws meant to control state-run TV stations to crack down on video bloggers and video journalists.
CPJ found that there are some 125 journalists imprisoned for their work worldwide, 56 of which are classified as online journalists by the organization. It’s a little harder to tally the exact number of online video makers because many journalists and bloggers obviously try to use all the media at their disposal, but it appears that at least five people were imprisoned for reasons related to their online video work. A spokesperson of CPJ told us that seven of the jailed journalists are traditional TV reporters.
One of those punished for producing online video was Maung Thura, a Burmese comedian who videotaped the relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis hit the impoverished country earlier this year. He circulated his footage through DVDs and on the Internet, according to CPJ, and was imprisoned on June 4th. Thura, along with another freelance journalist and two local activists were charged with violation of the 1996 Television and Video Act, a local law that apparently makes it necessary to get the government’s approval for every single video recording before it gets published.
Laws like these were obviously written with traditional TV journalism — not YouTube, video blogs and cell-phone cameras — in mind. When thousands of monks and protesters took to the streets in the late summer of 2007 to demand regime change in Burma, the world was able to watch because so many people were uploading pictures and videos to Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and opposition-run web sites. The country’s military regime was apparently perplexed by the situation; it wasn’t until days later that they moved to prevent additional images or video from being broadcast — by completely shutting down the country’s Internet access.