The BBC, recently returned from a ‘World Media Summit’ hosted in Beijing by China’s propaganda agency Xinhua, must be feeling rather pleased with its ongoing efforts to placate China’s regime. An extension of the British political establishment the organization, while widely known as a public service broadcaster, is also a valued and influential component of British foreign policy initiatives. Particularly in relation to China where its presence is used to support and promote British interests, the arrangement is not singular as China’s authorities are ever keen to exploit the huge news network offered by the BBC. Broadcasts on issues such as Tibet show an an increasing bias towards official Chinese policy and ideology, leading some to charge the organization with becoming a conduit for China’s propaganda. It’s difficult not share this conclusion when assessing the BBC’s reportage on Tibet, which rather than offer independent, critical and balanced perspective (demanded by its own operating commitments) often simply regurgitates without examination or context official Chinese views or claims.
The most recent example surfaced via the respected BBC World Service in an item by one Mark Scanlon. Broadcast on Friday October 7 and featured in a program called ‘World Briefing’ the reporter was detailing the latest incidents of self-immolation by Tibetans at the monastery in Kirti. His account was peppered with misleading terminology that would meet the unreserved applause of China’s propaganda agency and reinforced two very important ideological claims used by China’s regime. Asserting what in reality are occupied Tibetan territory as being Chinese and misrepresenting legitimate Tibetan political protests as ‘riots’ (a spin used by China following the 2008 national uprisings in Tibet). Mr Scanlon’s report happily amplified such distortions and offered further misrepresentations. Setting the scene for listeners he describes the location of Kirti monastery as being :
“..on the Tibetan plateau, but within the south western Chinese province of Sichuan“ (emphasis added)
This is a falsehood that endorses China’s cynical rewriting of Tibetan lands it occupies through military invasion, the monastery in question is actually near a place called Ngaba in Amdo region of East Tibet, a fact Mr Scanlon chose to ignore. Note also his deliberate use of the geographical term ‘Tibetan Plateau’ an expression favored by China it avoids all association of Tibet as a political or national entity. Not content with misinforming the audiences with such sleight-of-hand the report continued:
“Most of the complaints seem to focus on the tight surveillance and control maintained by Chinese security forces around the monastery” (emphasis added)
What a sly choice of terminology we have here at a stroke diluting and distorting the nature, causal factors and origins that have lead to the recent spate of suicides by Tibetans. Such misrepresentation is made worse by his nuanced implication that should controls be lessened that Tibetan resentment and protest would cease. With just a few clicks of the mouse those lacking the journalistic credentials and experience of Mark Scanlon would soon discover that Kirti monastery and the region of Ngaba has witnessed a series of pro-independence demonstrations which were viciously suppressed by Chinese forces leading to the slaughter of unarmed Tibetans during 2008 Such disturbing realities and political context do not appear to have registered with the reporter, who instead seems determined to present this as some form of resentment at religious restriction only.
Having painted such a distorted portrait, one no doubt much to the liking of China’s tyrannical regime, he continued:
“…hundreds of monks were reported to have been taken away for reducation earlier this year” (Emphasis added)
What a superb example of nuance, so understated and dilute that listeners could be forgiven for imagining Tibetan monks being helped gently onto a coach to be offered courses in some well resourced educational center. Would Mr Scanlon’s report have suffered had he used the terms ‘arbitrary arrests’ ‘prison’ or ‘enforced indoctrination’? Such terms would of course not be welcomed by the BBC’s hosts in Beijing! In closing this section of his account Mark Scanlon (in the unedited broadcast) also described the Tibetan demonstrations of 2008 as ‘riots’, another phrase China’s authorities uses to distort public opinion, against what were legitimate political protests against China’s occupation of Tibet.
Are we witnessing balanced, objective, or independent reportage at work here, or is the BBC again demonstrating a willingness to represent China’s distortions on Tibet, as part of a broader policy of appeasement, perhaps agreed and orchestrated at a senior level, towards foreign policy objectives that aim to maintain and secure positive relations with China ?