As newspapers go the New York Times (NYT) is right up there. A major media voice, respected across the industry and a trusted news source. Unless that is its reportage concerns Tibet, for then its strident and independent journalism gives way to an uneasy accommodation. Critical and objective reporting is replaced by credulity. Readers are exposed to an editorial take on Tibet that has a worrying similarity to the official propaganda generated by the Chinese regime. Headlines and article content are saturated with terminology that may as well have been crafted by China’s ministry of disinformation. The purpose of which is to promote the deception that Tibet is an inalienable part of China or that Tibetans and their culture are thriving under the tender mercies of the Chinese authorities.
Take the November 8 2016 NYT piece from Mr Edward Wong, its bold headline; that element of a newspaper story most often consumed and remembered, suggesting that Tibetan Buddhism is flourishing. The article features a number of glossy images showing seemingly contented Tibetan monks and nuns, a gleaming Buddhist monastery and views of an expansive community. What more proof is needed that Tibetans are enjoying their Buddhist traditions, after all seeing-is-believing, right? Well so the propagandists of China’s regime would insist, and after all they have a long record of peddling such imagery. Smiling and prosperous Tibetans may be found all over Chinese websites and news agencies such as the regime’s official mouthpiece, Xinhua.
The reality of course, as well documented and reported by less gullible media agencies is that Tibetan Buddhism is being virtually exterminated, its monasteries placed under paramilitary control, regular indoctrination programs, charmingly concealed as ‘Patriotic Education’ are forced upon Buddhist Tibetans. Even the ancient tradition of reincarnate Buddhist teachers has been placed under the control and approval of the Chinese State! Meanwhile across Tibet as this post is being written Tibetan monks and nuns are suffering unimaginable misery in forced labor camps, or tortured in one of the innumerable prisons and torture centers. Such vicious oppression and the assault upon the Buddhist culture of Tibet is a matter of record and has attracted the concern of leading human rights organizations, the United Nations and governments.
Now Edward Wong (who presumably ironically, describes himself on Twitter as ‘comrade’) and the New York Times will be very aware of this harrowing truth, yet have chosen to promote a distortion that no doubt meets the approval of the Chinese regime. Taking a closer look at the wording used we can see the fingerprints of China’s propagandists all over this piece. See for example how Comrade Wong references the recent widely reported destruction of Larung Gar. Another Buddhist center, that was recently bulldozed into oblivion with monks and nuns forced weeping onto convoys of coaches, under the merciless eyes of machine-gun carrying paramilitary:
“The largest, Larung Gar, in a valley to the northeast, has more monks than nuns. Workers there are now demolishing individual homes, on the orders of Chinese officials. Some clergy members are being forced to leave.” (Emphasis Added)
What a masterclass in dilution that comment is, the grim reality of what actually happened and the extent of oppression and destruction diminished under the cover of supposedly neutral reportage. Indeed, anyone reading those words could be forgiven for concluding that regular demolition workers are pulling down a few houses and that a handful of Tibetans have been forced to relocate.The facts though are very different, in magnitude, suffering and oppression, as hinted at in the image below.
Further indications of just how slanted this article is appears in its headline, the deliberate and carefully applied use of the term ‘Tibetan Plateau’. A geographic, nonaligned description greatly favored by the Chinese authorities, as it avoids entirely any political association regarding Tibet, or the implied questions of its actual status.
What may we justly question is the objective of this particular NYT article? Whose interests are being most served? Is it a fair and balanced appraisal of the condition of Tibetan Buddhism under Chinese rule? Or are we witnessing a leading media publisher serving as a conduit for China’s propaganda distortions on the subject of Tibet?