It is hard to say whether the Chinese efforts to muzzle the media were more stringent this time than during the Tiananmen massacre nearly 20 years ago. What’s certain is that the blogosphere and Youtube and the ubiquitous cellphone have since changed the game completely, and the efforts have not been half as successful as then.
The CNN’s China blog reads: “How do we find out what’s going on? We don’t have a crew there and are not allowed to send one now.” But it quickly goes on to clarify that its “intrepid researchers” are using modern communications to get the story from bloggers and the like. Similarly, the BBC has put out feelers on Facebook, looking for people in Lhasa “who can talk about what they have seen” or provide any “pictures/video they want to be shown more widely”.
And YouTube provides the March 10th protests with a universal face, rendering them all the way from Paris to Washington, Toronto to Milan. Particularly powerful is a video called “Global Uprising for Tibet”. It shows a group of Tibetans gathered together in the ancient home of the Olympics to question why they themselves have been left out of the games. The video shows how the group cannot even finish reading its statement of freedom before the local police “shut” its webcast down.
In India too, Tibetan activists are relying on communication tools that never existed at the time of Tiananmen. The president of the Tibetan Women’s Association B. Tsering said her organisation was relying on updates provided by Tibet residents through their mobile phones. It is they who claim that around 100 people have been killed during the protests so far, including four on Sunday morning.
As for the blogs, one entry that made it big with all the media institutions searching for the inside track was posted by two Belgian tourists who were in Lhasa during the trouble. The bloggers wrote about the undercover policemen who followed them around, questioned them about what they had seen, and made it almost impossible for them to take pictures. They said the few pictures and a video they had posted on their blog were “nothing like the reality” they had seen. Yet even their limited coverage made it all the way from YouTube to the BBC, which carried programmes based entirely on them.
Then there are the Chinese language blogs, which provide a more complex perspective. One QQ blogger wrote: “Today is March 14, 2008, White Valentine’s Day…. But something’s not quite right in Lhasa today. There are rioters everywhere, the kind of scene I’d never seen before back inland. To say this is terror doesn’t even cover it. People killed, fires lit, rocks thrown.”
Another QQ blogger rails: “If you just think about it, just who was it that made Tibet the developed place it is today? And who is it that sends qualified people each year from every sector to educate the children of Tibet? And who is it that sends aid from every developed city in the motherland each year to assist Tibet? I think you seem to have forgotten all this.”