SHANGHAI — Chinese officials have sharply criticized foreign reporters here over their coverage of the riots in Tibet,
accusing them of biased reporting and preventing them from traveling to
Tibet or neighboring provinces to report on the unrest.
The government has also begun a propaganda campaign aimed at persuading the public that the Dalai Lama,
the exiled Tibetan leader, instigated the violence in Tibet on March 14
and that China was a victim of separatist terrorist activity.
The Tibetan government in exile said Tuesday that the death toll
from the demonstrations was about 140. Previously, it had said that 99
protesters had died. China has put the death toll at 22.
The Chinese government’s effort is the clearest sign yet of its
concern that the Tibet unrest, as well as antigovernment protests over
Darfur, could disrupt the Olympic Games this summer in Beijing.
The government appears to be blocking foreign Web sites inside
China and censoring foreign television broadcasts here about Tibet. Youtube.com
was blocked after the riots began, and CNN and BBC broadcasts regularly
go black after mention of riots in Tibet. The New York Times Web site
appears to have been blocked or censored in recent days.
Over the weekend, the government allowed Chinese Web sites, which
are usually heavily censored for political content, to post sharp
critiques of foreign news media reports about Tibet and to show
graphic, violent images of Tibetans looting and attacking ethnically
Han Chinese in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, on March 14.
The images have fueled outrage in China and led to a flurry of Web postings vehemently critical of Tibetans.
State-controlled news media have been allowed to report from Tibet
and neighboring areas where violent protests occurred. But foreign
journalists have been denied access to Tibet and blocked from reaching
neighboring regions with large Tibetan populations. Many foreign
reporters who managed to get into Tibet after the riots were forced to
Foreign journalists in China say these actions violate the
government’s pledge to give them greater press freedoms and access to
the country in the months leading to the Olympics.
“At a time when China is promising to become more open with the
world, this is a big disappointment,” said Jocelyn Ford, a freelance
journalist based in Beijing and chairwoman of the media freedoms
committee of the Foreign Correspondents Club there.
To appease foreign reporters, Beijing told several journalists
Monday that a group of about 12 correspondents would be able to travel
to Lhasa for a special government-guided tour of the city this week.
Whether they will be allowed to interview people independently is
The government has issued no official statement criticizing the
foreign news media. But in recent days state-controlled newspapers,
television stations and Internet sites have been carrying stories and
commentary with a common theme: foreign media distortions. The official
Xinhua news agency released a story over the weekend suggesting that
film shown by CNN misrepresented the situation. CNN, in a statement,
said its coverage was accurate.
“I used to think the Western media were fair,” wrote one person who
posted comments online, according to China Daily. “But how could they
turn a blind eye to the killing and arson by rioters?”
Gao Zhikai, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, said the
foreign media were partly to blame and contended that many of the
reports about Tibet had been biased. “If you read the foreign media,
the only message you can get is that China is very heavy-handed, and
they are doing a lot of bad things in Tibet, and they are totally out
of their minds,” Mr. Gao said. “And they talk about the Dalai Lama as
if he’s God.”
James Miles, a journalist with The Economist who happened to be in
Lhasa during the riots, was praised on Chinese state television,
though, after he reported in The Economist and gave an interview to CNN
describing the riots and saying that Tibetans were singling out Han
Chinese, burning their shops, throwing stones and assaulting them.
The point, some Chinese commentators said, was that the rioters were
killing innocent Chinese rather than that the government was shooting
The government also repeats over and over that the riots were orchestrated by the “Dalai clique” to upstage the Olympics.
The Dalai Lama has said in the past week that he did not organize
the riots and that he supports the decision to allow China to hold the
The government also insists that the foreign news media do not
understand Tibet or efforts by the government to bring prosperity to
Journalists here say the travel and reporting restrictions are
making things worse. “Reporters are not even allowed to see the whole
story in Tibet,” said Ms. Ford with the Foreign Correspondents Club in
Beijing. “We don’t even know why people rioted or what they wanted.”
Georg Blume, a reporter for the German newspaper Die Zeit, was one
of the few Western journalists to get into Lhasa after the riots. He
arrived on March 15, he said, and saw huge areas damaged by riots,
fires and looting.
He says some Tibetans who took part in the riots said they were
proud that they were finally able to stand up to the Chinese; others
said they were ashamed of the violence.
They complained about social discrimination, unequal pay and rumors
that almost everyone had heard that Tibetan monks had been arrested,
and even killed, in the days before the riots.