By Tenzin Sangmo
Panel discussion on World Press Freedom Day
DHARAMSHALA, May 3: Exile media fraternity and the public gathered today at Dharamshala, the nerve centre of Tibetan political struggle in exile to mark the International Press Freedom Day 2019 with the overall theme of “the role of media in elections and democracy.”
Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy(TCHRD) and Association of Tibetan Journalists (ATJ) organized a panel discussion titled ‘Entry Barred: Freedom of Movement and Access in Tibet’ at Norbu Hotel, Mcleod Ganj.
The discussion featured Tenzin Peldon, the editor-in-chief of Voice of Tibet (VoT), Pema Tso, editor of Tibet Times and Tenzin Dalha, a researcher at the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI), moderated by writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue.
A pre-recorded video of interviews with Paul Mooney, a longtime correspondent for South China Morning Post (SCMP) specializing in China, Dolma, a former reporter with Qinghai TV, now living in France and Abhishek Majumdar, the playwright who wrote the play Pah-La, was screened before the discussion.
The interviewees agreed that press freedom in Tibet is next to nil, as verified by studies done by global rights monitoring agencies. Paul Mooney, who left China in 2012, said SCMP is being overtaken by Chinese influences and said the Chinese government allows it to publish critical stories once in a while to retain some semblance of credibility as a widely read newspaper.
“Some of my stories on Tibet was shelved and never published.”
Mooney, who continue to write social media posts and articles critical of China’s suppression of press freedom, said tough times has descended on domestic Chinese media also since Xi Jinping came to power and expressed his respect for Chinese journalists inside China.
He concluded that the Chinese government cares more about its image than its people.
Dolma recounted her experience working as a reporter in Tibet saying press in Tibet is a façade maintained by China without any means available to fulfil the traditional media’s duty of reporting factually.
Abhishek Majumdar said he strongly felt from his visit to Tibet that the real count of self-immolators so far exceeds what is reported so far.
During the panel discussion where each speaker was allotted 15 minutes’ time, Peldon and Tso recalled incidence where they faced difficulties verifying news from Tibet and deliberated on the dilemma commonly faced by exile media in weighing its duty to report versus possible security risks associated with it.
A member of the audience questioned the identical angle adopted by exile media in its reporting style and urged that diverse perspectives be employed to better engage the readers.
Talking about difficulties posed to information flow by Chinese censorship of the internet and messaging apps, Dalha said millions of people under the Chinese government continue to use proxy and VPNs to circumvent censorship.
Tso remarked the Chinese company Tencent owned micro-messaging app WeChat serves as the main channel of news coming from Tibet despite being in the news constantly for being unsafe and monitored.
Dharamshala saw widespread use of WeChat, with dozens of groups reaching 500 members, the maximum possible during the 2016 Sikyong elections although it is feared that sharing unhindered information of exile politics on the platform could endanger the security of the exile government.
TCHRD and ATJ, in its joint press release, called on the international community to engage with China and exert pressure on China to remove all policies and practices that violate the right to freedom of movement and travel in Tibet.
“Chinese authorities must allow human rights monitors and journalists to make independent trips to Tibet without government minders.”