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What Ails All India Radio's Tibetan Service?
Tibetan Review[Friday, February 16, 2007 12:46]
By Bhuchung K. Tsering

It is a fact that the majority of Tibetans, whether inside Tibet or resettled in different parts of the world, have a close feeling towards India. Historically, India is Phakyul (the Land of the Arhats) that has provided us Tibetans with our spiritual heritage, which we moulded through the years to form the fundamental basis of our distinct identity today.

If we look at the contemporary period, it is India that came to the rescue of the Tibetan people and provided us with the foundation for the preservation of our religion and culture, following the Chinese incursion into Tibet. Above all, Tibetans of today, whether living in Beijing, Lithang, Lhasa or Labrang, have a deep sense of gratitude to India for providing sanctuary to our revered leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Like the rest of my country cousins, it is through the kindness of India that I am what I am today. India provided His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership the space, resource and the encouragement not only to look after the socio-economic welfare of our people, but also to educate the Tibetan children to be prepared for the future.

Having said that I sometimes wonder how united India's administrative machinery is in its diversity. There seems to be a lack of coordination and the engendering of a perception that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing or intends to do, leading to conflict of priorities and difference in approach. A case in point at the microscopic level is the state of affairs at the Tibetan service of All India Radio (AIR).

This station that played a crucial role in enlightening the Tibetan people and the Tibetan-speaking community in the Himalayan region, and in the promotion of India's strategic interest since the late 1950s is today on the verge of disappearance. According to people who know the situation things have reached such a stage that there is not even one permanent broadcaster/journalist at the AIR Tibetan service. All the permanent staff members have retired with no one having been appointed to replace them.
The programs are now produced by some retired people working as "casual artistes." Under such circumstances the service cannot produce effective programs nor have long-term plans.

The Tibetan service is part of All India Radio's External Services Division. AIR itself was established during the period of British India and is run by the Indian Government. It has been a very effective tool in the promotion of India's national interest while also becoming a strong vehicle for information for the vast majority of the Indian people.

Channels of information dissemination have always been seen as an integral, if not fundamental, vehicle for command & control, whether it is a movement, an organization or a country. That is why one of the first steps of any movement or struggle is the setting up of mass communication avenues, be it radio stations, TVs, or newspapers. For example, Gandhiji started Indian Opinion newspaper to promote his movement in India. The Americans started Radio Marti in its campaign against the Castro regime in Cuba and the Chinese Government started a special program for "Tibetan brethren in Foreign Countries" on Chinese radio, specifically aimed at the Tibetans in diaspora. The Tibetan newspaper, Tibetan Freedom, that was started in Darjeeling, India, in the post 1959 period, too, may have had similar objectives.

Today, if we look at governmental initiatives we can see that many countries are moulding their external publicity to fulfill short-term and long term strategic interests. Voice of America continues to alter and develop its foreign language services to meet the objectives of the United States. Today, there is an obvious emphasis, including resources, placed on broadcast to Islamic countries. Over the years, even China has sharpened its external publicity, particularly its radio stations. Even if the Indian policy makers may not listen to China Radio International, a mere look at its Hindi service website would be a pointer to China's priorities. When did we last hear of AIR's Chinese-language service?

Observers of India should certainly be intrigued by the seemingly lackadaisical approach towards the Tibetan service of All India Radio. A cursory look showed that the problem could be specific to the Tibetan service as well as to the overall approach to the External Services Division. It cannot be that AIR is not able to find capable and qualified Tibetan-speaking individuals who could work for the Tibetan service.

Could it be that the neglect of the Tibetan service reflects a shift in India's strategic interests? One cannot imagine this happening, no matter what the status of India-China relations is or how the future of Tibet will shape up. The state of disarray may be more to do with how AIR's External Services Division is administered. Although the aim of this division is to promote Indian interest abroad its action plan is controlled, not by the Ministry of External Affairs, but by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, through a corporation known as Prasar Bharati. Indian observers have noted this anomaly as well as the lack of development of the External Services Division as a whole.

Coming back to the Tibetan service, unless remedial measures are undertaken the program may at best become warped into a comatose one, with no relevance. The time has come for the Indian powers-that-be to take a policy decision. If the Tibetan service fulfills India's strategic broadcasting needs, the unit needs to be activated and developed. If the feeling is that the Tibetan service has outlived its utility, just close it down. Left as it is, it is a waste of scarce resources and, more importantly, not in the overall interest of India.

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