Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

20 questions about Tibet

Corrections: Last week I played a clip from Global's National news program featuring a statement by nato Director General Jaap Hoop de Scheffer. I told you that the reporter's voice on that clip was that of Ben O'Hara. His full name is Ben O'Hara Byrne. My apologies for the mistake.


When you consider that the original demonstrations and riots in Tibet took place more than a month ago and the Tibet story has been in the news every day since then, it is probably significant that reliable information continues to be hard to come by.

Take for example, the reports of casualties. In the first days, Tibetan authorities reported 99, then 100, then 111. By April 4, the Green Left Review was saying “According to Tibetan sources, 140 protesters have been shot by police and troops. The Chinese government has only acknowledged 18 deaths: those that occurred on March 14 when crowds rioted in Lhasa.”

Oddly, the coverage of these events which were largely unattended by the press has been not only frequent but extremely widespread—so much so that any attempt to generalize would be foolish.

For a while, I read these stories as they were reported—more or less obsessively. In the end, there was a lot that I just didn't bother with, but I can offer some impressions that may be of some use.

The pattern in the quotation above was fairly common. Information about casualties among protesters was attributed to “Tibetan authorities” and generally hovered around 100. Another figure was attributed to “the Chinese government” or less frequently, "the Chinese" or just "China."

Not once did I see or hear an individual or an institution named. Who came up with this figure? And where were they? How would they know? And would they have an interest in inflating the numbers? Or dismissing them? Or discrediting one or both of the sources?

The reporting has been dismal. It would not have passed a high school English class. The numbers from China or the Chinese or Chinese authorities or the Chinese government were as low as 18 and as high as 34 or 35. But what did the numbers purported to count? Were these Chinese estimates of casualties among the Tibetan protesters? Readers were generally left to draw this inference or to speculate.

A few reports said that 33 or 34 Han and Hui Chinese were killed by the rioters. It was clear from videos taken in Lhasa that there were some deaths that were not among the protesters but among those who had been attacked by them. I recall one report that claimed a single Chinese policeman had died in the riots.

These are not the only unreliable numbers. What is the percentage of indigenous Tibetans now living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region? What percentage of the annual domestic product of the region comes from Tibetan owned businesses? How do other demographic numbers compare between Tibetans and Han or the Muslim Hui Chinese living in Tibet—literacy, education, health, longevity, prosperity?

Each of these questions has been "answered" with wildly diverging numbers.

How does the economic well-being of Tibetans compare with that of other Chinese?
Are there any reliable figures that document the domination of the Tibetan economy by Han and Hui Chinese? Or are we stuck with anecdotal reports?

Of course, asking about these numbers is a way of trying to find out about social justice. Are Tibetan people discriminated against in China?

The answer seems to depend on who you ask. If I could ask whoever I wanted, I would ask Tibetan peasants. But it seems there has always been someone to speak for them—monasteries, wealthy landowners, emperors and party committees.

What were human rights like in Tibet before the Dalai Lama left in 1959?

I wonder about the 1956 uprising. Here again are numbers that stand for questions of a more philosophical quality. How many people were killed in 1956? How many people fled after the uprising? Who were they?

Why was the uprising fought in 1956 and not in 1951 when the Chinese took over?
What role did the British play in Tibet? What role did Tibet have in the British Empire?

Add to this the ambiguity of purpose and flaky, reverential reporting by the North American press--does the Free Tibet movement want a sovereign Tibet? or greater autonomy? or reconciliation with China? Surely they are not asking us to believe that they propose to elect the Dalai Lama. So democracy is out of the question, isn't it?

That's more than 20 questions and only the last one was rhetorical. So take your pick.

Mexican community radio activists killed

Mexico April 8, 2008, Two Journalists of the Community Radio La Voz que Rompe el Silencio in the neibourghood of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca (southest of Mexico), Felicitas Martínez Sánchez, 21 years old and Teresa Bautista Merino, 24 years died from bullet wounds while travelling the highway from Joya del Mamey to Putla de Guerrero in the State of Oaxaca. Another four people were wounded on April 7, 2008.

The Community Radio La Voz que Rompe el Silencio has been broadcasting since January 2007. The project is formed mainly by youngsters and adolescents from Trique indigenous people present in the region.

The Journalists were on their way home from a meeting in Llano Juárez inviting locals there to participate in the radio station.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters in Montreal is calling for a letter writing campaign urging prompt investigation of the murders, punishment of those responsible and protection for the witnesses and their children. A list of Mexican officials and their addresses is available at the World Report blog.


In two weeks, World Report will be moving to a 30-minute format at a new time, Monday evenings at 6 pm. So keep an eye out.

The question of the week for KCR: What is a podcast, and what do we need to know about them? “Podcast” is a marketing term that Apple Computers invented to describe how the iPod can be used to listen to material you get off the Internet or take off a cd. But you don't have to own an iPod to take advantage of podcasting.

Who owns it? Who controls it? Who decides? Who profits? Who takes responsibility? Who does the work? Who needs it? What are the benefits and what are the costs? What are the risks?

iTunes Canada Pulls Homophobic Music

iTunes Canada has removed several songs by Jamaican artists Elephant Man, TOK, and Buju Banton because they call on listeners to murder gay men. Stop Murder Music Canada and Egale called on Apple to remove the songs, which contained lyrics translating to “Join our dance and let’s burn the queer man” and “Boom Boom, queers must be killed.” Although the move has caused some controversy about freedom of expression and censorship, one thing is clear: it’s not legal. Speech calling for the murder and hatred of an identifiable group violates Canadian hate laws, and Stop Murder Music Canada has called on other music retailers—such as HMV,, and Archambault Musique—to follow Apple’s suit. Jamaican dancehall music is notorious for its homophobic lyrics. Homophobia is rampant in Jamaica, with 43 lynch mob attacks on gay men reported in 2007 alone, resulting in the murder of at least 10 gay men.

In case you missed it, you can get a free subscription to the World Report podcast delivered to your email inbox or to your feed reader. If you'd rather read than listen, text versions are often available on the blog.

Learn about actions and campaigns, connect with the progressive Canadian blogosphere, find links to contemporary videos.

Remember the poll question on the blog: What do you see as the most urgent security issue? Would you be surprised to learn that the number for whom economic dependence on the US is the most urgent equals the number for whom peak oil is the most urgent security issue.

You can follow the stalled negotiations on the US-India nuclear deal on the World Report blog's The Hot Topic, which is currently searches for the IAEA and the Nuclear Supplier's Group.

The World Report Editor's Choice this week includes an interesting article on how a railway line built by Canada's Bombardier is transforming Tibetan trade; an article by the Jewish pagan writer Starhawk on her experience of being thrown out of Israel; and a must read article from the Bretton Woods Project that discusses a number of recent reports calling on the World Bank to get serious about human rights.
There's also an excelent piece by Jay Rosen called the News about the News. It's a text and podcast that begins like this "This seems to be the moment in which the death of the American newspaper can be foretold with some authority."

While I'm thinking about it, this Friday at noon, I will be hosting an independent media panel to look at who we think we are and what we think we are doing here at Coop Radio. I'll have several hosts of Nelson before nine and and interview with Deb Burnett, our sposorship coordinator to talk about adversing as a license to do business. That's this Friday, April 18 at 12 noon 93.5 FM in Nelson, 96.5 up the Lake and www dot kootenaycoopradio dot com on the internet. Check it out.
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