Dispatches: Burma’s Secret War
An excellent Dispatches hit our screens on Monday night: a thorough piece of journalism on a story that is criminally under-covered, plus brilliant story telling, which I reckon, shows video journalism at its best.
Dispatches: Burma’s Secret War (Channel 4, 8pm) took us into a country that’s literally cut off from the outside world. Few tourists go there and the draconian military dictatorship have banned foreign journalists.
Evan Williams is one of those (well, can you call yourself a journalist until you’ve at least been banned from somewhere) – but he hasn’t given up, and entered the country undercover in order to get the story.
Which is just as well really; it wouldn’t have been half as rivetting if he hadn’t gone back.
A sudden call from the Free Burma Rangers last Christmas began for Williams a month long trek through the Burmese jungle. He followed the rangers (a Christian group providing medical aid to villagers) as they trekked to burnt out villages while similtaneously avoiding being captured by the Burmese army. The rangers insisted he come alone so he had to film the whole experience himself.
According to this week’s Broadcast magazine, he took just 14 batteries and 40 tapes for the whole month. He used a Sony A1 HDV camera operating it himself.
And yes, the camerawork was shaky and the light not always great and the sound not perfect, but this was first hand storytelling, and it was gripping.
Williams didn’t try to hide anything either. We were taken to a medical tent where a landmine victim’s shattered shinbone stuck in the air as he lay on the bed in agony; the rotting corpse of a murdered villager was another grim but necessary sequence. Audiences eating their dinner would have been put off their food – I hope they were.
The programme, made by Hardcash Productions exposed dealings between the British government and Burmese junta, but most of all it was the story of the silent agony of millions of Burmese people.
But will anything come of it? Authored docs like this are the best for keeping an audience enthralled for 60 minutes, but as soon as the credits roll, the attention is soon diverted. And until we solve that problem programmes like this will remain as silent and unacknowledged as the suffering of the Burmese people.