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Denied access

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 14:19 UK time, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

There are a handful of countries where the BBC is not welcome - but not many where our services on radio, TV and online are actively blocked.

Tibetans throwing stones at army vehicle in Lhasa, TibetFor the BBC, reporting China is a complicated affair at the best of times - and the current protests in Tibet present particular issues. Along with every other news organisation, China's internal security laws mean we can't get into the region without permission - that has been refused.

But in addition to our problems in the field, China also routinely blocks access to BBC services in most of the country. Until now, our international TV service, BBC World has been available in diplomatic compounds and in the big hotels aimed at foreign tourists.

But since the first reports of the protests emerged on Friday, even here, the BBC's reports on the trouble have been interrupted - not always terribly discreetly. Mention the Dalai Lama or trouble in Lhasa, and for a few moments the screen goes black. But getting accurate, first hand reports out of Tibet is a real problem. Without our own people on the ground, we're largely reliant on "eyewitness" accounts - we have no means of independent verification.

Fortunately, the BBC's former Beijing correspondent, James Miles, is in Lhasa and has been able to describe the situation on the ground. Now a writer for the Economist, James was reporting for the BBC when the Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square 19 years ago. It gives him an unrivalled perspective on the story.

Dalai LamaWe've also managed to obtain some video of events on the streets of Lhasa. They show some of the violence between Tibetans and ethnic Han Chinese. Among the viewers was the Dalai Lama himself. At his news conference this morning, in his exiled home of Dharamsala in India, he spoke of his concerns at seeing on the BBC the pictures of Tibetans attacking Chinese. He said he'd resign as leader of Tibet's exiles if the violence worsened.

The irony of course, is that no-one in China will see the Dalai Lama's plea for calm; in Lhasa, BBC World is still being blocked while in Beijing, the signal is interrupted every time Tibet is mentioned.

Update, 05:00PM: Earlier this afternoon, the press counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in London, Liu Weimin repeated an offer made by the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing this morning. Mr Liu said the Chinese authorities would give serious consideration to organising a foreign press trip to Lhasa so the international media could see for themselves the situation in Tibet. We'd welcome this opportunity - there is no substitute to first hand reporting. The BBC is ready and waiting.


I am an American who has been casually tracking what has been going on in China for a blog I am putting up. What is going on over there?? First the actions of the protest, then this hype over China having Bibles on their security threat list for the 2008 Olympics and now the BBC blackouts? They are also doing this to CNN here in the States. The public should really take more notice of this and not casually pass it out of their minds as, "Oh, there goes China again - censoring their citizens."

China is a financial stronghold and it is ironic how oppressed their people are. I am so grateful for my freedoms and access to any piece of information I want, whenever I want to tune it to the television or surf the web.

- Krista - San Antonio, Texas - U.S.

  • 2.
  • At 07:13 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Eric wrote:

It's simply outrageous that China are getting away with this, and by blocking independent coverage they only incriminate themselves further. If they've done nothing wrong, they should have nothing to hide. I appreciate that Tibet is a sensitive topic for China, but I just don't trust them. Every piece I've seen with any sort of foreigner visiting with a camera has been micro-managed by Chinese authority, and too often I've seen officials in China lie outright to the interviewer and camera. It just smacks of fascism, telling people what they can and can't cover, much less look at.

They are hiding an awful lot if you ask me, and the world needs to see it. I hope you get an opportunity to show us an unbiased view, but I doubt it will be allowed.

  • 3.
  • At 08:46 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Heather Martin wrote:

Thank you for this interesting insight.
We are all distressed by the violence but the Chinese authorities can't seem to see that their policies over decades are at the root of the problem.
If their negotiations wth the Dalai Lama had progressed sooner and direct contact between the him and the Tibetan people encouraged, I doubt that this violence would have erupted the way it has.
Years of preferred treatment of Chinese nationals in Tibet have caused resentment. Is it a surprise that it's surfaced now? Maybe not, but sadly the Chinese government can't see (again) that no-one outside of Tibet & China is fooled by their allegations of it being orchestrated by the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese want total control and in the 21st century it's going to be increasingly difficult to sustain without repercusions on a global scale.
(Though the Western governments may be too cowardly to make a stand). I hope the BBC do get into Tibet soon and we can see for ourselves the situation.

  • 4.
  • At 09:14 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • peter scott wrote:

And the Olympics grow ever closer, what a joke to give China these games. The pollution problem was bad enough. Why don't they look at history to see that all the poor excuses we hear have been given by these sought of regimes in the past and they proved to be ridiculous then as they are now. We've heard it all before. They are insulting our intelligence and obviously don't give a dam. But of course money we ultimately just roll over.

  • 5.
  • At 09:21 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Melanie Kovero wrote:

Well done. Please give Tibet a Voice. How about starting up a petition on so that all likeminded people could protest 'peacefully' against China. Ask China to leave Tibet and let Tibet be its own Free country.

  • 6.
  • At 09:30 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Laurence Wormald wrote:

Please press for reporting rights. I have noticed that, whereas a few years ago there were many stories about the ruthless nature of China's politics, now the media seems to be star-struck by China's economic growth and wealth, and is unable to adopt a critical attitude to the important human-rights issues in Tibet and other parts of China. The parallels to Burma seem very strong, and need to be investigated.

  • 7.
  • At 09:41 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Zenghu Li wrote:

I hope Chinese government can invite BBC to Tibet soon. BBC is a very fair and trustful media unlike some big media groups in the US.

  • 8.
  • At 10:16 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • csharp wrote:

there are 2 chinese state minders on the channel 4 news boards. see any chinese/tibet related thread.

  • 9.
  • At 11:27 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Mario Fernandez Silva wrote:

In a world of information and misunformation,
your courage, honesty and objectivity, is my daily bread!
Keep the good work for the sake of
freedom of the press.
For me you are the closest one can get to the true!
Yours faithfully,
Mario Fernandez Silva

  • 10.
  • At 11:28 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Andrew J. Holden wrote:

I certainly hope that the BBC will hand over a camera to one of many people in the region willing to take these risks in order to report on the situation there.

  • 11.
  • At 11:36 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Tucano Fulano wrote:

No "government" is about to get involved, as there is no nation, particularly the USA, strong enough morally, spiritually, militarily, politically, or most critically economically to resist China.
But us "common" folks do have those powers. There are 5 Billion of us (including you) non-Chinese (PRC)on the planet. If each of us spends $10/month LESS on "Made in China" stuff the economic impact on China will be tremendous, and sudden. Economic Power = Military Power. Cripple the one and the other has no punch or staying ability. Don't count on any "government" to do much at all. It's up to each and every one of us, you and me included, to weaken China's strangle-hold on Tibet.

  • 12.
  • At 11:46 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Verano wrote:

In what way does the media actually make a positive contribution in war or riot situations?

The voyeurism becomes unbelievably boring and perverse. A journalist standing in a hell-hole, ranting about the horrors and the injustices, all because they had rather blessed childhoods in Middle Earth. Well, who cares or bothers to watch news about Iraq or Afghanistan any more? So now it's Tibet.

Most people cannot be bothered with this approach to news reporting any more. What is holistic about it? Where is the education? What is constructive about it?

I wish professional journalists would broaden their minds and go learn something new, for example, how to build a brick wall.

  • 13.
  • At 12:50 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Ed Manning wrote:

I do hope that during the Olympics this summer, at any time when a Chinese competitor comes near to winning a medal the screens outside China will mysteriously go blank.

We should attend the Olympics but the world's media should use the opportunity to highlight the occupation of Tibet. To represent Britain and our democratic traditions at the Olympics a few Free Tibet banners would not go amiss.

Or perhaps adding in permanent text to Olympic reports from China that "Pictures from China may be subject to censorship."

  • 14.
  • At 01:09 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Ste wrote:

Should we not respect any of the rights of other Nations just because no one respects ours?

  • 15.
  • At 02:01 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • yy wrote:

PLEASE remember:Tibet WAS, IS and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China.

  • 16.
  • At 05:37 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Alex wrote:

Let's hope it won't turn out to be a show-around in a tour bus visiting the damaged area aftermath.

Along with a 'recommendation' sheet of paper on the angle to report this event.

  • 17.
  • At 08:09 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • P J Manasseh wrote:

Why does the BBC constantly refer to North West China rather than Tibet? If the BBC is blocked by China why both to grovel?

  • 18.
  • At 08:16 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • wit wrote:

Everyone has itself surroundings,so try to understand others.Just like the Tibet activity,China's authorities must have their reasons and the local culture is special after all.When you don't learn about wholy,and then it is hard to discuss or make comment.

  • 19.
  • At 09:21 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • aduguid wrote:

The Chinese are well known for their blocking and media blocking / snooping technology - so much so that the Zimbabwean government asked the Chinese to install such equipment to stop interference from the West thus allowing Mugabe's govt to 'snoop' on e-mails etc.
'Bad peas in a pod'

  • 20.
  • At 09:49 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Ben wrote:

You may not want to publish directly but incorporate thoughts in next blog. I am sitting in Shanghai . . . .

It is not just the BBC that goes black, but CNN as well. Having said that, it is sporadic as if the guy with the button is asleep. And sometimes something is shown and the next time it is blocked. Quite random. The attempt seems to be more to put people off watching the news at all by just randomly switching it off at present.

But this does not really work. Many people have illegal satellite dishes which cannot be blocked. Ironicaly, it is those who are most likely to already be aware about the situation who have access blocked.

Regarding the web, only the news part of the BBC website is actively blocked as has been the case since I arrived here. It doesn't bother me too much - I just turn on the radio player and 'listen live'. Clear as a bell.

  • 21.
  • At 10:17 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • David Chapman wrote:

Europe, America and Australia should boycott the Olympics.
They would be a waste of time then. Russia and China could battle out to see who wins the most medals.
The other athelets could always have an alternative meeting somewhere else.
Such a loss of credibilty to China will hurt its pride and they would increase their propoganda machine no end to limit the damage. Goverments should boycott all the goods from China.All our big companies who have moned their operations there should be forced to relocate. In twenty years time the whole world will be dancing to China's tune unless we take drastic action now.

  • 22.
  • At 10:45 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Davie wrote:

Surely everyone can see that with a population in excess of one billion,the rest of the world are only interested in what business can be done or money made from this massive country and blind eyes will be turned to the vast majority of situations which exist in China which would not be tolerated in a CIVILISED country relating to both humanity and animal welfare.

  • 23.
  • At 10:56 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • andy B tokyo wrote:

history will always play a part in our future and we all should be looking forward to it.

  • 24.
  • At 11:04 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Kwy wrote:

i think people who leave a negative comment on this should concentrate on their own countries and problems they have.

China has only recently taken over USA in terms of energy and pollution use, this only shows that China is growing in power that scares USA, so to counter this the western countries turn this into a big thing and also having ago about Tibet.

The thing is if they followed GREAT BRITAIN's example of giving back land they become powerless. If China did this with Tibet how many countries would want to follow? Taiwan etc... this is exactly what USA want to see happen as they are afraid of being second best. What do you people think happened to Russia?

The western countries should think about this and leave China to their own business and stop Robert Mugabe or something or is it cause their isnt anythin of value there to go and help the people there?

China are doing this for a reason not just to punish people fun as the media makes it sound. So iam not surprised that Media has been DENIED access there.

  • 25.
  • At 11:11 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • christine wrote:

well i watched Tiananmen Square 19 years ago. and was amazed it happened. Do to them what the west did to the Russians boycott the olympics boycott made in china goods and boycott chinese restaurants ect. but it cant just be the west its got to be everyone.

  • 26.
  • At 01:19 PM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Matthew wrote:

I welcome the BBC trying to report on the protests. I was in Tibet for a few weeks over the Chinese New Year just a month or so before all the protests, and I'm watching this and thinking I'm glad I got out when I did! But personally I wouldn't blame China for everything, life has improved for most people in Tibet in the last 30 years or so, and monks are just stirring up trouble, attacking Chinese people which prompted the Chinese to respond and stop the attacks, which they are perfectly within their rights to do. Tibet is a part of China, and has been for hundreds of years.

  • 27.
  • At 01:32 PM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • jm wrote:

free Tibet? What a joke!! Tibet is always belongs to China. Why tibet wants to be free? it is because of you ugly english!! please read the history before you post a commet!!

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