Reporters Without Borders called today for the foreign news media to be allowed back immediately into Tibet and nearby provinces with a Tibetan population, where the Chinese authorities have maintained a news blackout and have been conducting a massive propaganda campaign for the past six weeks.
"What is the Chinese government hiding behind Tibet’s closed doors?" the press freedom organisation asked. "Things are clearly far from being back to normal, as the authorities claim. The few reports emerging suggest a very different situation, one of arrests and a climate of fear in the cities and around the monasteries."
Reporters Without Borders added: "The news blackout facilitates the work of the government’s propaganda machine but also the spread of rumours encouraged by certain groups abroad. We appeal to the European Union and the United Nations to try to get the government to allow foreign reporters to travel freely in Tibet and the neighbouring regions."
The organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games yesterday announced that a press trip to cover an attempt to take the Olympic torch to the top of Everest was being postponed indefinitely. Reporters were supposed to have gone to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa first to get adjusted to the altitude, but the Lhasa stage of the trip has been cancelled altogether because of "meteorological" problems, the authorities said. "Only coverage of the torch relay will be allowed," an official said.
No journalist has been allowed to move about freely in Tibet and the regions with a Tibetan population since 14 March. Two press trips were organised by the authorities to Lhasa and to Labrang monastery in Gansu province. Tourists have been banned from visiting the Himalayan region until further notice.
Reporters Without Borders has learned of about 50 violations of the right of foreign journalists to move about freely in the Tibetan regions since mid-March.
The authorities have waged a massive propaganda campaign designed to portray Tibetans as "rioters" and "terrorists." The official news agency Xinhua’s dispatches talk above all of a return to normal and the discovery of weapons in Buddhist temples. Xinhua announced that the authorities have found firearms, dynamite and satellite dishes in 11 monasteries in Gansu.
National and provincial TV stations have been asked to keep broadcasting footage of violence by Tibetans in Lhasa or in the city of Aba in Sichuan province, where Tibetans attacked public buildings.
To prevent the Tibetan population from getting access to uncensored news reports, the authorities have stepped up the jamming of international radio stations that broadcast in Tibetan such as Voice of Tibet and Radio Free Asia. Violating international rules governing short and medium wave broadcasting, the Chinese authorities transmit low-pitched noise on the same frequencies as the foreign stations.
Voice of Tibet manager Oystein Alme told Reporters Without Borders: "We have noted a significant increasing in jamming since 16 March, especially in the cities where the government has invested tens of millions of dollars to install antennae to prevent Tibetans from listening to us."
The propaganda campaign against the "Dalai Lama’s clique" gets a lot of space in the Chinese media based abroad. The state-owned CCTV’s stations that broadcast in foreign languages just show the violence by Tibetans and never refer to the reprisals that followed. Ouzhou Shibao (News of Europe), a newspaper based in France, published a full page on Tibet giving the government’s position.
Chinese Internet users and hackers are also harassing pro-Tibetan organisations. The Tibetan government-in-exile’s site was recently put out of commission by a group of hackers based in China. And several foreign news media, especially websites that allow visitors to post comments, are being flooded with messages that repeat government propaganda word for word.
The Chinese authorities have ordered the media to stick to the official toll of 13 innocent civilians killed and 300 wounded by "rioters." The Tibetan government-in-exile reported that about 100 Tibetans were killed and hundreds were arrested. Some pro-Tibetan groups say thousands are being held in camps where torture is practised.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s constant criticism of the foreign media’s coverage of the situation in Tibet. "Some media deliberately misrepresent the facts and wrongly portray a hateful crime as a peaceful demonstration," Tibetan communist leader Raidi said.