International media presence in Lhasa worse than Pyongyang, says press freedom group

Reporters Without Borders, the global press freedom organisation has expressed “alarm” at the total media blackout imposed by Chinese authorities in Tibet, preventing all media coverage of the ongoing wave of self-immolations and mass demonstrations in the region.

“Not only are foreign media organisations prevented from covering these events, but the authorities have also organised a veritable disinformation campaign, using pro-government media such as the Global Times, which play down the disturbances and accuse the international community of interfering,” RSF said in a special report last week.

“Out of sight of the world, a major crisis is unfolding. Even Pyongyang has an international media presence, which is not the case in Lhasa.”

Accusing China of once again aiming to “control the Tibetan people behind closed doors” by excluding journalists, the group said Beijing is trying to restrict all communication between the region and the rest of the world.

“Connections are cut off, access is blocked and content linked to the unrest is removed,” the report said. “Local community networks are particularly targeted in order to nip in the bud any attempt at mobilising support online.”

RSF noted that since January 24, Internet and cell phone networks have been severely disrupted within a radius of 50 km around Serthar, eastern Tibet following massive demonstrations in the region.

Websites of Tibetan exile media organisations are inaccessible, while discussion forums and blogs in the Tibetan language, such as Sangdhor.com and Rangdrol.net, have also been blocked since February 3, the group said.

Taking note of the unlawful restrictions on foreign journalists, including BBC and CNN from entering eastern Tibet, the group said journalists suspected of wishing to defy police instructions are victims of harassment by the security forces.

“Some have complained of being followed, others that they have been escorted to the airport by the police, questioned for several hours, forced to wipe the pictures they have taken and have had their equipment seized,” RSF said.

“These infringements create an atmosphere of constant surveillance which add to the stress levels and affect the psychological well-being of some media workers.”

The report also condemned China for embarking on a “campaign of disinformation” which includes hacking of overseas media networks for propaganda purposes.

According to the world press freedom index compiled by RSF, China fell six places in the 2011-2012 and now stands in 174th places of 178 countries.

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