China blocks YouTube, reporters over Tibet news
Broad Internet controls have blocked YouTube and most chat rooms.
The Chinese government's overriding priority for the past week has clearly been to quell unrest among its Tibetan citizens. But the authorities have also made exhaustive efforts to ensure that as few people as possible, inside or outside China, hear any but the official version of that unrest.Skip to next paragraph
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Foreign journalists have been banned from traveling to Tibet and prevented by the police from reporting on protests by Tibetans in other Chinese provinces. Domestic newspapers, TV programs, and Internet sites have carried only articles produced by the official Xinhua news agency. News reports on international TV networks such as CNN and the BBC have been blacked out by censors.
The policy marks a sharp setback for moves the Chinese government had been making recently to be more open. In particular, the way foreign reporters have been prevented from reaching the scenes of protests runs counter to regulations introduced last year that were designed to ensure free reporting, in line with a promise the Chinese made to the International Olympic Committee.
"The foreign media's inability to conduct first-hand reporting is a very black mark tarnishing the government's promise," says Melinda Liu, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China. The recent unrest was "a test" of the regulations, she added, "and in the last few days the government has got an 'F.' "
'Go no farther'
This reporter was stopped by police at a highway tollbooth on Saturday evening and told he could go no farther toward the town of Xiahe, in Gansu Province, where Tibetans had been demonstrating against the government.
Two dozen other foreign journalists suffered the same fate at other roadblocks around the town. Some who had slipped in before the blocks were established were later escorted out of Xiahe by the police. Elsewhere, two Canadian TV reporters were briefly detained by the police after filming in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
The director of the Foreign Ministry's information department, Hong Lei, who in the past has helped journalists being obstructed by local police, says he can only "cooperate with the local authorities. When there is some emergency, the local authorities have the authority to set up prohibited areas for outsiders," he says.
Banning foreign journalists from reporting on such emergencies serves "the peace, stability, and unity of this country," he adds.
When Beijing was bidding for the Olympics in 2001, Wang Wei, head of the Games' organizing committee, promised the international media "complete freedom to report when they come to China." The new regulations say that "to interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent."
"The regulations are fine when you want to interview pandas, but they don't work when you want to talk to Tibetans," scoffs one longtime foreign correspondent in Beijing.
The police blanketed areas inhabited by Tibetans in provinces neighboring Tibet, such as Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan, in order to prevent foreigners from entering. On Monday, a police patrol even prevented this reporter from visiting the remote and peaceful village of Hongya, 60 miles southwest of here, where the Dalai Lama was born.