Will Chinese Regime Silence Media’s Coverage?
The Chinese regime sought first to silence the protest of the monks in Lhasa with a violent crackdown on March 14 that reminded the world of Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It is now seeking to finish the job by blocking all information from Tibet from reaching the outside world.
Meanwhile, troops are said to be flooding the province, raising fears that violent reprisals are now taking place unknown to the outside world.
The Dalai Lama expressed his concerns about possible ongoing violence on Thursday to The Guardian. “There are many remote places cut off from the world where the only sign is Chinese troop movement. I am really worried that a lot of casualties may happen.”
Reporters without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday issued a similar warning, “After ridding Tibet and the neighboring regions of undesirable observers—foreign journalists and tourists—the security forces are crushing the protests without the international community being able to watch.”
Since the crisis in Tibet began last week, the lid has been firmly closed on any independent media coverage and the rest of the world has only been able to catch glimpses of what is happening via photos sent via mobile phone and snippets of smuggled footage.
Chinese authorities have refused entry to Tibet to foreign correspondents since March 12 and tourists are also being denied access, for security reasons, according to the authorities.
As a result of foreign media being forced out, the coverage has been patchy, with some details being gleaned from Tibetan shopkeepers or Han Chinese leaving the region.
In Tibet, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has recorded more than 40 serious violations of the rights of foreign journalists since March 10, the day the protests began.
Reporters have been prevented from working freely in the cities of Lhasa, Beijing, Chengdu and Xining, as well as in other places in the provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai, said RSF in a press release.
One of the cases cited by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China is that of a Finnish TV crew that was arrested on March 17 in Xiahe (in Gansu province), where there had been Tibetan demonstrations against the Chinese regime.
The TV crew was threatened and its video recordings were confiscated despite its protests. “You don’t want to know what will happen if you don’t show us the footage,” one of the policemen told reporter Katri Makkonen.
Police forced journalists working for British television channel ITV to leave Xiahe the previous day after stopping them and taking a note of their names several times. They were also filmed by plain-clothes police. ITV correspondent John Ray said their Chinese driver was “terrified” when the police took down the details of his driver’s license and vehicle license number.
In addition to muzzling the international press, the Chinese regime has sought to stop Tibetan activists and ordinary citizens, both inside and outside of China, from spreading information about the crackdown.
According to AFP, Matt Whitticase of the Free Tibet Campaign in London received phone calls of an abusive nature in Chinese every two minutes for several hours on Tuesday. Whitticase says the intent of the calls was clearly to prevent him from working.
AFP also reports that Lhadon Tethong, who is the director of Students for a Free Tibet in New York City, has also received abusive calls.
Tethong also reports receiving emails with viruses.
The India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reports having its email system disabled because of attacks, also according to AFP.
Inside China, internet censorship regarding Tibet has been tightened.
RSF reports obtaining a copy of a message posted on the popular QQ messaging system that states, “We inform Internet users that it is forbidden to post news about Tibetan events. From today, the Internet Surveillance Bureau will carry out filtering and censorship.
“It is forbidden to post, circulate or discuss reports about Tibetan events in Chengdu.” (Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, next door to Tibet, and has been one site of Tibetans protests.)
Inside Tibet itself, “Internet café owners have been ordered to prevent all ‘state secrets,’ including photos and videos, from being sent abroad. At the same time, the telephone service is still subject to extensive disruptions,” according to RSF.
Controlling the Message
In the absence of uncensored news from inside Tibet, the Chinese regime has attempted to shape the world’s perceptions of what has happened there.
One example of the regime’s success in this has been the international media’s willingness to label the events in Lhasa of last week as “riots.”
The Tibetan government in exile, according to a report in the Financial Times, claims that the violent protests that eventually took place were the work of Chinese agents who had dressed as monks.
Without a press free to investigate the facts, it is impossible to verify exactly what happened.
The Chinese regime has sought to portray the monks’ protests as an attempt to sabotage the Olympics and a bid for secession from China—although the Dalai Lama has consistently denied that Tibetans seek independence from China.
The Tibetan government-in-exile said in the Financial Times report that they were exercising caution in what they said, as “China is willing to label Tibetans as terrorists and try to legitimize their crackdown internationally.”
“China is infamous for using all state machineries to doctor evidence and propaganda hoping to confuse and fool the world with additional lies to cover up past lies as Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have been doing in the last few days,” the government in exile said.
Within China, the regime has had a freer hand to control opinions.
Since the crisis began in Tibet, the jamming of radio broadcasts into Tibet from outside China has intensified.
According to the press organization PEN “Satellite [TV] broadcasts focusing on events in Tibet this past week have reportedly been jammed in Beijing and other Chinese cities, and entire news sites such as the LA Times and The Guardian have been shut down.”
According to RSF, “Anyone searching for Tibet in Chinese can see videos on YouTube.cn and on others web sites which are hostile to the Tibetans along with insulting remarks about ‘separatists Tibetans’ which are not censored.
“Chinese video-sharing platforms, the most popular of which are http://www.tudou.com and http://www.56com, have had all news referring to the latest events deleted. On the other hand one can find news websites on which racist comments have been posted about Tibetans, calling for the murder of the ‘separatists.'”
The Associated Press provided a striking example of the official propaganda in reporting that Zhang Qingli, the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Tibet, was quoted in the Tibet Daily as saying, “The Dalai is a wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast.
“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy.”
The Guardian quoted the Dalai Lama as saying of Zhang’s statement, “This Chinese official statement is meant for Chinese public. Do you think the outside world believes that? Really I feel sad. The Chinese public’s lack of information [allows] the government to manipulate their ignorance.”
This Cultural Revolution-type rhetoric used by Zhang reveals a deep anxiety on the part of the CCP.
North of Tibet is the majority Muslim province of Xinjiang, which has an active secessionist movement.
Within the last few years dissidents such as Gao Zhisheng, Jia Jia, and Wang Zhaojun have directly challenged the regime in demanding an end to the persecution of Falun Gong, the protection of fundamental rights, and real democratic institutions.
According to Radio Free Asia, “Labor expert Han Dongfang estimated in Jan. 2008 that strikes involving at least 1,000 workers occur daily in the economic powerhouse that is the Pearl River Delta, along with many smaller strikes.”
Throughout China, popular discontent with the CCP is boiling up more and more frequently—CNBC reported in Oct. 2007 that 100,000 violent protests were breaking out in China each year.
If protests continue in Tibet, their example will encourage others in this restless country to imitate them.
Press Freedom and the Olympics
Tibet has always been a place to which the Chinese regime has restricted press access.
According to CNN, its crews were admitted in to the region only twice within the last 10 years.
However, after being awarded the Olympic Games the Chinese regime promised to change the rules.
Francine Prose, the President of the PEN American Center, commented, “The Chinese government pledged to the world that there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games—a pledge that’s completely undermined by its conduct in Tibet.”
Whether the Chinese regime will pay any price for the crackdown in Tibet and the breaking of its pledges regarding press freedom is unclear.
So far, no nation has announced plans to boycott the Beijing Olympics.
France’s foreign minister Bernard Koucher does not expect a boycott to develop. He told France’s BFM TV on Wednesday, “When you conduct foreign relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you take economic decisions, sometimes it’s at the expense of human rights.”
The Associated Press reported Lodi Gyari, an aide to the Dalai Lama, expressing a different view, that the Olympics provides the opportunity to pressure the Chinese regime to change its behavior.
“There are a number of people outside in the free world who also believe China’s hopes for the Olympics is a window of opportunity. I believe it’s a window of opportunity.
“The Chinese themselves have created this global image. Tibet is precisely the image they wanted to avoid.”