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Why RFA Matters, So Much, Right Now - By Jamyang Norbu

posted Dec 26, 2012, 5:49 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Dec 26, 2012, 5:50 PM ]

By Jamyang Norbu
December25, 2012

Commenting on my last few posts, some readers took me to task for raising the issue of Jigme Ngabo’s dismissal from RFA, thereby (according to them) diverting public attention away from the self-immolations in Tibet, especially when “… our nation is on fire” as one put it so graphically.

If my critics had read the posts carefully they would have realized that my fundamental concern for the well-being of RFA rose from its role as the primary source of accurate information for people inside Tibet on what was actually happening within their own country.  Even the minority of educated Tibetans who have access to the Internet must contend with the “Great Firewall of China” and probably cannot access or as easily as you and I can outside.  They have cell-phones (definitely monitored) and there is word of mouth, but clandestine radio is probably about the only reliable source of trustworthy information that most people throughout the vast Tibetan plateau have on the self-immolations, especially when Chinese occupation authorities have imposed a total blackout on any such news.  People inside Tibet unquestionably need a functioning, straight-shooting RFA, right now, to know about the self-immolations and public protests taking place in far-flung reaches of their own country.

Then there is the obverse issue of information from inside Tibet getting out to the free world, and the additional hurdle of having that information being accepted by the international media.  For that task the Tibetan Language section of RFA is probably without peer in the Tibetan world.  The seismic 2008 uprising, that I described in my first blog of 2008 as the “rangzen revolution”, which started in Lhasa and spread throughout Tibet, is in a real sense the progenitor of the self-immolations and demonstrations taking place right now.

The first news of the 2008 uprising was broken by RFA Tibetan language section on March 10 around 9:30 p.m. Lhasa time (9:30 a.m. EST).  A translation of the Tibetan program in which the breaking news appeared:

Host, Lobsang Yeshi: We have very urgent breaking news coming from Tibet, with a source inside Tibet, informing us of a huge demonstration by Drepung Monastery, consisting close to 300 monks having staged protest rally against Chinese government.  For details we have our reporter, Dolkar, to tell you more.

Dolkar: OK, thanks, Lobsang Yeshi.  A source in Tibet who does not want to be identified has called me to inform that 10 March being the anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, the day on which Tibetans observe the Uprising Day anniversary, on this day in Tibetan capital Lhasa, close to 300 monks from Drepung monastery have staged a huge protest rally.  The source reports that the monks from Drepung monastery began their protest from the monastery by marching towards the Chinese checkpoint, located towards the west of Lhasa, at which point, they were stopped and suppressed/beaten by People’s armed police and other security personals.  We are also getting news that by around 4 p.m., Chinese have blockaded all the roads leading to the western part of the Lhasa city and military trucks and two other kinds of military vehicles are found moving. The military trucks are moving, in a set of sevens at same time along the road.  Sources also reported seeing ambulances from hospitals going in the same direction.  Sources are expressing fear that it seems the monks might have been hurt and injured under military repression.

Today being 10th March, the security in Lhasa city, especially near the Potala palace and Bakhor Street is reported to be very tight with Chinese personals checking the people’s movement.  So right now, this is the news we are getting from Tibet.

Source: Radio Free Asia

The above excerpt is from a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report that gave RFA the credit for breaking the story.  “The earliest reports of unrest in Tibet last month didn’t come from a major newspaper, wire service or TV station. They came from a U.S.-funded shortwave radio broadcaster.”  The WSJ story also highlighted China’s “anger” at this development and noted “RFA’s reporting on the crisis in Tibet has reignited longstanding ill will with China over the U.S. government’s Cold War-era broadcasting system.”  The official Chinese reaction was also discussed.

“The Chinese government says the station has done ‘non-objective, unfair and unbalanced coverage of China for a long time,’ according to a foreign ministry spokeswoman.  ‘We know many foreign media reprinted their stories about Tibet.  These incorrect stories have resulted in much criticism from Chinese people and foreign media professionals.’”

Beijing even had “independents” scholars and experts raise this issue in the Chinese media.  Pro-China academics and journalists in the free world (read my pieces on “barefoot experts” and “running dog propagandists”) strove to play down the political and revolutionary significance of the 2008 Uprisings and attempted to spin them as Tibetans expressing themselves for better economic opportunities within the Chinese political system.

China’s reaction was so unusually aggressive that the director of RFA, Libby Liu, called a special management meeting where she asked if there was any truth to Beijing’s accusations.  Jigme Ngabo informed her that everyone at the service had consistently abided by RFA’s founding directive to be neutral.  He added that all Tibetan journalists employed by the service maintained highest professional standards and that none of them were in any way influenced by, or accountable to, the Dalai Lama’s exile government.  One participant at the meeting mentioned that the exile government had in fact been harshly critical of RFA’s Tibetan service and that the prime-minister Samdong Rinpoche had issued standing instructions to kashag ministers and senior officials not to give interviews to RFA or participate in its programs, which in itself was evidence enough, if not proof, of the Tibetan Service’s strict neutrality and professional objectivity.  (Readers should regard this as an approximation of the discussions at the meeting.  I did not have access to the minutes, if any were kept, and the memories of the couple of people I talked to were not as crisp as I would have liked them to be.)

Anyhow, Libby Liu was, reportedly, cheered and encouraged by what she heard.  She sent out RFA spokeswoman Sarah Jackson-Han to reassure all the newspapers and other media services around the world, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, that had cited the RFA report in their coverage.

In the following months RFA Tibetan Service “…broke the news about unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang province, an area facing its own antigovernment, separatist tensions.”

What we Tibetans have in the RFA Tibetan Service is, in a real sense, our own national, yet independent radio station with professional accomplishment and international credibility.  Nowhere within the Central Tibetan Administration do we have as powerful an asset to our freedom struggle as this service.  The fact that RFA doesn’t dutifully parrot the Dharamshala party-line should be seen as an asset and not as an act of disloyalty to the Dalai Lama, as so many simple-minded devotees and also devious self-serving politicians have been interpreting it.

All right-thinking Tibetan should insist that Jigme Ngabo be reinstated as head of the Tibetan Service.  He is someone with a proven track record of fairness and objectivity, professionally speaking, and also in his dealings with his staff.  There is also the real fear that if Jigme is not reinstated Dharamshala will see to it that the next director will be its creature, some one who will ensure that all mention of Tibetan independence or freedom be deleted or distorted in reports coming out of Tibet, even when protesters and self-immolators have made such specific declarations.  Deliberate excisions of references to “rangzen” have happened before in reports issued by ICT.  The nationalistic and revolutionary features of the immolations and protests will be downplayed and instead construed to appear as devotional acts, demonstrations of loyalty to the Dalai Lama, and perhaps even to Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.  Earlier Sikyong himself has made claims along these lines to a friendly Australian journalist.

Libby Liu was recently seen in Dharamshala wearing a chuba and doing the rounds of the CTA offices.  She told everyone willing to listen that she wanted to work “closely” with the CTA.  So much for RFA’s founding directive to be objective and neutral.  Eventually RFA Tibetan service will become an agency devoted to “reaching out to our Chinese brothers and sisters” and demonstrate to them that the vast majority of Tibetans sincerely want to be part of the People’s Republic of China, and are all resolutely opposed to the nefarious actions of a few rangzen “splittists” who want to break up the Great Motherland.

A concluding appeal to readers.  Please write to Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher thanking him for his efforts and requesting him to investigate this matter further, even if a formal hearing has to be convened, so that American taxpayer money and (with apologies for quoting myself) “… the “US Congress’s noble and successful experiment to provide the Tibetan freedom struggle a powerful and independent voice, is not hijacked and perverted to serve as a covert propaganda outpost for the “Ministry of Truth” in Beijing.”

Originally posted at

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