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Archive for Sunday, March 23, 2008

With news flow stanched, China puts out its own story

March 23, 2008

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Tsering Dhondup, left, joins other protesters near the United Nations on Saturday in New York. The leading communist Chinese newspaper called Saturday on the government to "resolutely crush" demonstrations in Tibet against Chinese rule.

Tsering Dhondup, left, joins other protesters near the United Nations on Saturday in New York. The leading communist Chinese newspaper called Saturday on the government to "resolutely crush" demonstrations in Tibet against Chinese rule.

— With restive Tibetan areas swarming with troops and closed to scrutiny from the outside world, China's government turned up efforts Saturday to put its own version of the unrest before the international public.

Information barely trickled out of the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other far-flung Tibetan communities, where foreign media were banned and thousands of troops dispatched to quell the most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in nearly five decades.

The Chinese government was attempting to fill the vacuum with its own message. It disseminated footage of Tibetan protesters attacking Chinese and accusations of biased reporting by Western media via TV, the Internet, e-mail and YouTube, which is blocked in China. The communist government's leading newspaper called to "resolutely crush" the Tibetan demonstrations.

The media barrage underscored that the government campaign is moving into a new phase of damage control ahead of the much-anticipated Beijing Olympics in August.

While China's rigorous policing of the Internet is far from foolproof, its official Internet is pervasive and there is no easy access to an alternative in the country. The difficulty of confirming what is going on inside Tibet may also be hindering a stronger world reaction.

"They've successfully managed the messages available to the average Chinese citizen, and this has fueled broad public support for a heavy-handed approach to controlling unrest," said David Bandurski, a Hong Kong University expert on Chinese media. "There will be no nuances to Tibet coverage."

Unfair coverage?

CNN's bureau in Beijing has been deluged in recent days by a barrage of harassing phone calls and faxes that accuse the organization of unfair coverage. An e-mail to United Nations-based reporters purportedly from China's U.N. mission sent an Internet link to a 15-minute state television program showing Tibetans attacking Chinese in Lhasa.

A slideshow posted on YouTube accused CNN, Germany's Der Spiegel and other media of cropping pictures to show Chinese military while screening out Tibetan rioters or putting pictures of Indian and Nepalese police wrestling Tibetan protesters with captions about China's crackdown.

Though of uncertain origin, the piece at least had official blessing, with excerpts appearing on the official English-language China Daily and on state TV.

China raised its death toll from the violence in Tibet by 5, to 22, with the Xinhua News Agency reporting that the charred remains of an 8-month-old boy and four adults were pulled from a garage burned down on Lhasa's last Sunday - two days after the city erupted in anti-Chinese rioting. The Dalai Lama's exiled government says 99 Tibetans have been killed, 80 in Lhasa, 19 in Gansu province.

In Chengdu, a sprawling Chinese city at the foot of western China's Tibetan highlands, members of the large Tibetan community complained they could not get telephone calls through to the upland town of Aba where police shot at demonstrators last Sunday.

Shops reopened in Lhasa and a few tourists arrived, nearly a week after most foreigners were told to leave, said residents reached by phone. But paramilitary police kept a heavy presence, "patrolling the streets around the clock," said an employee of the Shambalhaa Hotel, who refused to give her name due to fear of reprisals from authorities.

Though the European Union and the United States have so far said they opposed boycotting the Beijing games over the crackdown, an EU politician said in remarks published Saturday that European countries should not rule out threatening a boycott if violence continues.

"Beijing must decide itself, it should immediately negotiate with the Dalai Lama," European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering was quoted as saying by Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper Saturday. "If there continue to be no signals of compromise, I see boycott measures as justified."

'One-sided propaganda'

A group of 29 well-known Chinese dissident writers, lawyers, political activists and other intellectuals decried China's approach to the unrest.

"At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation," said a letter signed by the 29 and circulating via e-mail.

Their appeal, however, was likely to go unheeded by a government that has blacklisted many of the signers for their activism.

The ruling Communist Party's flagship newspaper struck an uncompromising line.

"We must see through the secessionist forces' evil intentions, uphold the banner of maintaining social stability ... and resolutely crush the 'Tibet independence' forces' conspiracy," People's Daily said in an editorial.

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