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Trouble Abroad II: Journalists, Tibet & The Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee has decided on a press strategy to deal with Western publications’ tricky questions about unrest in Tibet and the 2008 games — a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to the Chinese government’s heavy-handed reactions.

Reporters sans Frontieres obtained an internal PR memo from the IOC on how to deal with press questions regarding Tibetan unrest and questions regarding Darfur and Xinjiang province:

“The memo, written by the IOC’s public relations department, rules out any direct IOC involvement in resolving the Tibet crisis, even if it recommends that members express their concern. “China’s involvement in Tibet strictly concerns its social and political policy,” the memo says. “It is not related to the country’s hosting of the Games, nor to its relationship with the IOC.” The memo provides IOC members with a list of supposed human rights improvements in China. The announced resumption of dialogue between China and the United States, the signing of a UN covenant on human rights (that was never ratified) and China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council are some of the examples cited.”

Meanwhile, reporters in China are facing increasingly tricky situations. Lindsey Hilsum, a UK journalist reporting in China for Channel 4, told the Press Gazette about a government-sponsored tour of Lhasa that went wrong. Well, wrong for the Chinese government and the Chinese masses who watch state-run media — but right for the reporters:

“As the journalists were ushered into the Jokhang temple, in central Lhasa, 30 young monks burst in weeping and shouting that they had been falsely accused of violence, and imprisoned in the Jokhang. They said they loved the Dalai Lama, and that the people praying at the temple were Communist cadres placed there for show, not real Buddhist worshippers. It was all on camera. In China, CNN and BBC World run with a few seconds delay so the government can black out anything awkward, but it is somewhat embarrassing to censor your own official press tour. Those with satellite TV therefore saw what happened, but most Chinese get only state TV. On the news that night they saw a monk from the Jokhang management greeting the reporters, and no mention of the protest. The report went on to explain that the western media are “especially biased and prejudiced when it comes to reports on Tibet issues.”

Meanwhile, an English-language Chinese site criticizing Western media coverage of the Tibetan crisis has popped up using URLs like “anti-cnn.com,” “anti-bbc.com” and “anti-voa.com.”

The next few months are going to be interesting ones for Western reporters in China.

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