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Unblocking access

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Last week, I wrote on the blog about the difficulties we were facing reporting from China. There have been two interesting developments since then. This morning, the Chinese made good on the promise by the Premier Wen Jiabao to take a group of international media to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The bad news is they decided not to invite the BBC on the trip. We will be able to show you what they are allowed to see - cameras from the Associated Press news agency are on the trip. But it's no substitute for first-hand reporting.

Chinese soldiers disembark from a truck in Lhasa on 21 March 2008Fortunately, we now have another source of material. As you may have seen elsewhere, the Chinese authorities appear to have unblocked access to the English language section of the BBC News website. It's not clear whether this is a permanent or temporary move. What it does mean is that we now have thousands of readers inside China. Typically fewer than 100 people read stories from Chinese computers - but yesterday that figure jumped to more than 20,000. And it means that comments have been flooding in to BBC forums from all over China - many providing a different perspective on the violence and our reporting of it.

There's no doubt that many in China are annoyed at the way the western media have reported the story. A video on YouTube takes the BBC to task for captioning what appears to be an ambulance with the phrase "there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa". It was a mistake. We don't always get it right - when we get it wrong, we need to say so. On this occasion, the caption was not appropriate for the photograph. The facts are not in dispute - there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa - but we should not have captioned the photo in the way we did. However, to suggest that this is part of an orchestrated campaign is unfair. The BBC has no agenda - our job is to report all sides of the story. Which is precisely why we want to be allowed into Tibet.


  • 1.
  • At 11:55 AM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Brian Abbott wrote:

Maybe the CHinese have unblocked the website precisely so that hired stooges can post comments and therby influence you ...

Just a thought.

  • 2.
  • At 12:15 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Marko wrote:

If a representative of the Chinese government is reading, please post reasons for blocking the Chinese language version or just as an experiment, let it through for a short time. It might stimulate some interesting dialogue and perhaps receive feedback from Chinese people pointing out errors and inaccuracies in the BBC. End result: a more balanced view?

  • 3.
  • At 12:39 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Piacere Wang wrote:

I'm glad that you mentioned YouTube. Yes no body can always get it right. China's blockage only makes it harder for BBC to report our side of the story, so to be fair you can't be blamed in this case. Hopefully soon we will also be able to hear voices from China instead of Pro-Tibet Independence stories only.

  • 4.
  • At 01:04 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Kevin Joe wrote:

I am also wondering why the authority has not invited BBC, which is quite influential worldwide. In complaining that the western media have a biased coverage of China, the Chinese government restricts their contact with China, leaving their reports a mixture of scarce facts, impressions and conjectures. So who is to blame?

  • 5.
  • At 01:08 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Raymond Lam wrote:

I always respect BBC's professional journalism. However, on this occassion, isn't it a bit naive to simply protrait the Chinese are the bad guys and the Tibetan are the good guys. We all know that there is no clear black and white in politics. Why did the worst violence in decades start just few months before the Beijing Olympics? Someone somewhere must have planned it precisly to maximise the exposure and to gain the political bargaining power regardless of the loss of human lives as long as their ultimate political end is achieved. Shame, no one seems to explore the other side of the story.

  • 6.
  • At 01:29 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Jack Chen wrote:

I am a Chinese. I don't think there is any problem of BBC's coverage on Tibet. As to the disputes on what is the truth by new viewers from China, I should remind the author that no one should expect too much from our fellow countrymen who can not access to the BBC until recently. You have done a good job and please keep your standard regardless if they agree or disagree with you.

  • 7.
  • At 01:40 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Hong Da Wang wrote:

BBC may claim not to have an agenda but it is still a Western media. You cannot escape the glaring biasness in all the reports from Western media in regards to the riots in Tibet. When BBC reported that China is suppressing 'peaceful protestors', many Chinese were up in the air. What peaceful protestors are you talking about? They started the rioting, the looting, and the arsoning and you call them peaceful? Certainly the Western sympathies for Tibetan independence has led even foreign ministries making this mistake. We have all been hearing a one-sided view about the supposed 'hundreds' of deaths as well as the 'tense situation'. How much of this is really true? What we do have is the conflicting numbers of deaths issued by the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan government-in-exile. No one can trust both of them because they both have an agenda. Finally, there are more than 100 million overseas Chinese outside of China, you don't need the Chinese inside China to tell you what's happening.

Your reporting is as unbiased as I've heard; I listen every night.

I suspect your error rate reporting on this story is somewhat exceeded by the "error" rate of that of the Chinese government.

  • 9.
  • At 02:24 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Ian Nartowicz wrote:

I have come across vocal opposition to the Tibetan rights movement from Chinese students in this country and in America. There seems little doubt that the majority of Chinese would be supportive of their government's policies in the region, but that is no surprise in a country where free speech and the media are tightly controlled. Effectively the populace is brain-washed by government propaganda and the "haves" from China are happy to repeat the propaganda as they travel around the world.

  • 10.
  • At 02:36 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Zhong Li wrote:

Dear Jon Williams
I am not at all surprised by the hostility of general Chinese towards western media such as BBC. Long period of isolation and tight media control which leads to distrust and misunderstanding - to both sides.

Although now China is often been portrayed as a wealthy emerging superpower, one should not forget that less than 20 years ago this was a country struggling with extreme poverty. Chinese people are more desperate than the government - or the Communist Party - to show their achievements to the world and to be recognised. However in most cases, negative, even evil images are reserved for China in most of foreign reports.

I will not say all these reports are untrue or deliberately edited, but they are almost surely misrepresented to a certain level. Being a Chinese living in UK, I do trust the justice and professionalism of BBC. Unfortunately, as far as I know, vast majority of Chinese more likely to believe western journalists are plotting against them and their country. So the result is general public are unlikely to bother to post on such a distrusted website, and the number of anti-china campaigners is improportionally high which I would say only worsen the case.

By the way, although access to BBC was officially banned previously, most people with access to internet still were able to view through foreign servers. I always email BBC news back to friends in China - how possible do you think information can be effectively controlled in the age of internet, mobile and vast flow of global travellers? Besides, western television programs are rather easy to receive in big cities - although except for businessmen, only students learning English might pay much attention to them.


Zhong Li

  • 11.
  • At 04:23 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Houyi wrote:

Maybe it's because of BBC's "selective" reporting of the incident, I've seen countless number of articles about the crack down of protests by the Chinese authority, how the Tibetan are suffering from he Chinese rule, but the Media (BBC included) rarely talk about the real victims of this incident, which are innocent Han Chinese who where beaten and killed by the mob, whose shops where burned, they are people just like us trying to make a living for their families, they have every right to be in Tibet, just like every Tibetan has every right to be in any other part of China, from reading your articles, they makes people think that it's their fault, that they shouldn't be in Tibet, their side needs to reported and told as well, Therefore, I don't believe you when you state that "our job is to report all sides of the story".

  • 12.
  • At 10:28 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Atul Adhikari wrote:

Frankly there doesn't seem to be any way out in the tibet issue. The invitation of media persons is just another political stunt by the chinese premier to show their side of their story.
On the other hand u cant blame the tibetians for protesting againist the chinese. Any freedom democratic loving countries citizens would do that.

  • 13.
  • At 12:36 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Cobblyworlds wrote:

The comments claiming BBC bias against the Chineses interest me.

That's because despite my being too busy to follow the news in detail at present, I have definitely seen BBC News24 showing video of Chinese people being beaten by mobs of Tibetan protestors. And in general the BBC seems to give quite a positive portrayal of China, in contrast to Channel 4 News for example, who's coverage is much more critical.

The attacks on ordinary Chinese people living in Tibet should not be excused. But the reasons for that violence can be understood. If the Chinese really want to move forward it is that understanding that they need to develop.

The Chinese policy has been to encourage their citizens to move into Tibet. Furthermore they have consistently tried to stifle Tibetan culture. This is typical behaviour of an occupying power. Such activities will build up tensions. When these tensions explode, having been repressed, those engaging in the repression are not blameless.

As I see it what has been going on in Tibet recently is like a classroom fight: Tom has been repeatedly flicking Paul's ear. Paul has protested and asked Tom to stop the ear-flicking to no avail. Finally frustration causes Paul to explode and hit Tom in the face. At which point Tom cries to the teacher.

What the Chinese government and media are currently doing in complaining about the attacks and riots is identical to Tom's crying to the teacher. The violent reaction of Tibetan protestors against ordinary Chinese living amongst them is not to be applauded. But it must be understood in terms of the wider context of Chinese provocation.

The Chinese authorities are as much to blame as are the Tibetan's involved in rioting.

  • 14.
  • At 10:05 AM on 28 Mar 2008,
  • regina wrote:

I am a girl from Guizhou. First, i have to say i can visit the western website ,like BBC. Secondly, i want to let you know there are 56 ethnics in China , not only Tibet and Han. Chinese government didn't treat Tibet different from any other ethnics, instead, they get more support. For example, Han people can only one child ,as you know, however, Miao people and other ethnics can have two. in my opinion, i can't understand why some Tibetians were angry with Han and killed some innocent Han. It was wrong to do so, although we know you wanted to have your voice heard all over the world. As for the some western reporters distorted it as a Peaceful protest, i felt very disappointed. It made me feel i am unwelcome to the westerner ,because you have very deep bias . So many my friends said why we should take too much care of what the westerners said ,most of who have never been to China. Finally, we have been trying very hard to prepare a excellent Olympic Games, even the people the small town like Leishan are excited . However, because of the Tibet protest, it seemed that many westerners were angry with Chinese. If we knew this early, i perfer there is no Games . And this really hurt and frustrated us, the common Chinese people.Olympic Games is just Sport event, how can it become a tool? how i wish my English would be better or you can understand Chinese, then i can show my feeling clearly.Please let the world become peace, Chinese need it , and the people in the world need it.

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