‘Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.’ (1)
The Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Authority (CTA) are able to apply censorship to the information conveyed by Exile Tibetan Community’s media through the following 3 methods:
1. The Dalai Lama’s position as a Buddhist spiritual leader
As explained in ‘The Gilded Cage – Part Two Religion and Politics,’ (2) ‘Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion.’ In the Exile Tibetan Community this is particularly easy to do when it is the Dalai Lama himself at the Head of the political community. Part Two explains clearly how it has become possible that, “The Dalai Lama’s power, and by association therefore, the power of the Central Tibetan Association (CTA), is absolute within the exile Tibetan community: ‘As most Tibetans see the Dalai Lama as a living Buddha, they are culturally inhibited against speaking out to condemn someone who is seen as semi-divine.’ (3) ‘Whatever he says will not be criticized by anyone—a tradition that has become ingrained for all Tibetans since the institution came into existence.’” (4) The Dalai Lama’s position as Spiritual Guide for many Buddhist practitioners has the effect of censoring any criticism against his, and therefore the CTA’s, instructions or actions, his position within the Buddhist community is, in effect, a form of censorship. ‘Because the Dalai Lama is perceived to be the incarnation of a Buddha it is not permitted to criticise him. Social prohibitions against criticising him extend also to the exile government. Even secular critiques of the government are controversial and widely avoided….The furthest most people will go is to criticise the Dalai Lama’s senior advisors, family members or exile government officials.’ (5)
Even though the Dalai Lama has officially stood down as political Head of the Exile Community a clever move by the CTA has turned criticism of the TGIE leadership into disloyalty to His Holiness. ‘In recent a speech to Parliament, (September 2012) Speaker Tsering further elaborated: “Instead of doing their duties, a small group of Tibetans have engaged in making groundless claims on matters concerning the general meeting, special parliament session and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s devolution of political authority to the democratically-elected CTA leadership, to create discord in the community”. Thus, in a neat rhetorical move, Speaker Tsering brought Parliament’s decisions under the umbrella of His Holiness. Criticism of Parliamentary decisions are now attacked for creating “discord” and hurt to His Holiness. (6)
Tenzin Nyenjey, a former bureaucrat in the exile community’s administration, talks about how this culture has led to an exile community that is passively silent, ‘We have been brought up within a system that injects in us passivity and obedience to leadership. Indeed, most of us, having been brought up with a belief in the infallibility of our leadership, faithfully followed whatever course Dharamsala charted for our future. We rarely imagined that the leaders in Dharamsala were human beings, with all the possibilities of making mistakes, and thus blindly placed our destiny in their hands. So, our leaders are not to be blamed alone—we all share a collective responsibility in this.(7)
2. Funding by the West
As explained in ‘The Gilded Cage – Part Three Corporate Power (8) ‘In reality it is the funding of the NED that props up the power elite of the CTA, under the leadership of the Dalai Lama, and creates a ‘mutually beneficial business/government relationship.’ ‘In a statement of January 19, 1996, Mr. McGehee described the post-1991 activities of the NED as “political action operations targeting China and Cuba.” Another NGO of the US has said: “NED engages in much of the same kinds of interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries, which were the hallmark of the CIA. The NED has financed, advised and supported in many ways selected political parties, election campaigns, unions, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, even guerrillas in Afghanistan and, in general, organisations and individuals which mesh well with the gears of the globalised-economy machine…. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, and also founded the Centre for Democracy, one of NED’s funding middlemen, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” The NED, like the CIA before it, calls what it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements whom the NED targets call it destabilisation.”’(9)
NED funding has poured into communication projects chosen and monitored by the Dalai Lama’s regime. Because there has been no funding of independent media sources this has had the effect of ensuring the Exiled Tibetan community’s mass media is completely controlled by the Dalai Lama’s regime. These projects are all affiliated with Dalai Lama and therefore only give his religious and political views:
The funding of these projects by the NED are fully explained in an article by Michael Barker. (10) The first example given is the Tibet Fund, who first received NED aid in 1990 to “produce audio cassettes that will bring world and Tibetan news into rural communities in Tibet.” They then received continued NED support for this work in 1994 and 1996, whereupon the distribution of the audio tapes was extended to Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal as well as those in Tibet. In 1996, the Tibet Fund also received NED aid on behalf of the Tibet Voice Project, “for an educational initiative based in Dharamsala, India, aimed at raising the social, political, economic and environmental awareness of Tibetans through audio-visual media.” The NED notes that: “Particular emphasis will be given to speeches of the Dalai Lama on the topics of democracy and human rights.”
The Tibet Fund’s work with the Tibet Voice Project was continued in 1998, and the Fund also received NED aid to run “an electronic media workshop for Tibetan journalists, and to introduce a bi-monthly Chinese language news magazine about Tibet.” Voice of Tibet was established as an independent radio station, starting its Tibetan language short wave radio service on May 14th 1996. It was founded by three Norwegian NGOs; The Norwegian Human Rights House, The Norwegian Tibet Committee and Worldview Rights. Voice of Tibet has been airing daily programmes in both Tibetan and Chinese on short wave to Tibet and China as well as India, Bhutan and Nepal. The accompanying picture on their website makes it clear that it speaks with the voice of the Dalai Lama. (11)
Another group that has received strong NED backing is the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), who between 1999 and 2004 received annual NED grants (excepting 2000) to “provide comprehensive, accurate information about political, social, and economic developments in Tibet to Tibetan audiences, the international community, human rights groups, and the media.” These media articles are deemed to be above criticism or censure: ‘TIN acquired an almost iconic status within the Tibetan movement. Beyond critique and examination to some, to speak-out against it risked being charged with a form of blasphemy.’(12) This article describes how, seemingly as a result of the funding it received, the TIN completely changed the way it presented information to the public: ‘Having established a reputation for accuracy, and independent reportage TIN acquired an almost iconic status within the Tibetan movement,’ in its early days. However it then began ‘a careful policy of glossing-over, marginalising or ignoring.’ The writer clearly believes the shift in policy was a result of funding received; ‘Could such influences have taken root within TIN’s administration? There was considerable speculation surrounding its rapid elevation, questions were asked about its seemingly overnight transformation, from voluntary initiative into a functioning and seemingly funded organisation. The late Tsering Wangyal, former editor of the Tibetan Review, commented in 1990 that there “was a lot of money sloshing around the Tibetan scene”. Notwithstanding such conjecture although the merciless scepticism it previously demonstrated at one stage appeared to have softened, its general coverage remained characterised by tentative and extenuating terminology. This did not change under its last acting Director, Mr Thierry Dodin.’
The Tibet Times is a Tibetan-language newspaper founded in 1996 and published every ten days from Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India, the seat of the 14th Dalai Lama.
The underlying philosophy of the newspaper centres on ‘the need for an independent press to an exiled community,’ however the blurb on the website also indicates this newspaper is far from independent: ‘The highlight of the paper’s short life span is that it was personally blessed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama.’ (13) One wonders how people would react to say the British ‘Independent Newspaper’ bragging that it had been personally ‘blessed’ by the leader of a political party?
The following ‘are the details of the grants distributed by the NED during 1999 – either directly or through its associate organisations such as the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Centre For International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) – ostensibly for the promotion of democracy and trade union and other human rights in Asia…. the main focus continues to be against the military regime in Myanmar and the Chinese administration in Tibet and on Cambodia. Their activities are so designed and implemented as to be in consonance with the foreign policy and strategic objectives of the US Government in this region. It has been mainly active against those countries/areas and regimes which are perceived as unfavourable or detrimental to US interests and not against those considered essential to US interests. After the reversion of Hong Kong to China in June, 1997, they have been looking for surrogates in India who could help them in their activities against the present regime in Myanmar and against the Chinese Administration in Tibet.
The following 1999 grants were distributed through India-based organisations:
Tibet Times Newspaper
To provide in-depth coverage of news about Tibet, the exiled Tibetan community, and Chinese and international affairs, through a Tibetan-language newspaper published three times a month in Dharamsala, India.
Tibet Multimedia Centre
To support a four-part programme of democratic civic education and information dissemination that addresses the struggle for human rights and democracy in Tibet. Based in Dharamsala, India, the Centre produces print, audio, and video materials for distribution to Tibetans in India, Nepal, and Tibet.
Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
To translate into Tibetan, publish, and distribute 10,000 copies each of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The programme is based in Dharamsala, India.
To continue publishing Tibetan Review, an English-language monthly news and opinion journal based in New Delhi, India.
It is the funding of all these forms of communication by the NED that has enabled the Dalai Lama to keep a firm grip on anything that is published or conveyed within the community and to the wider world. Because there is presently very little industry within the exile community, there is little opportunity for individuals to develop independent media sources that are not controlled by the CTA. If the United States really does want to support democracy through NED funding then it needs to ensure that all people in the exile community have a voice, not just the Dalai Lama and the CTA. ‘Clearly several Western states are supporting Tibetan Diaspora communities’ efforts to spread massive information…truth barely seems to matter in this contest of propagandas.’(14)
3. Through Aggressive control
The final way that the Dalai Lama and CTA control and silence the media is through direct and aggressive intervention against those that are seen to be critical of them.
Intimidation by Dalai Lama followers
The silencing may be carried out on behalf of the Dalai Lama by his loyal followers; ‘Individuals or groups who publicly express political critiques are often themselves criticised, if not silenced by other community members. My field notes include stories of individuals verbally and physically attacked in Dharamsala by other Tibetans for their political views…Familiar logics of serving the Dalai Lama undergird such community disciplining of perceived transgressions. If to defend the Dalai Lama is one of the highest forms of religious service, to transgress him is one of the most serious charges one Tibetan refugee can make against another, the risks and tensions inherent in expressing critique or dissent.’ Carole McGranahan (5)
This method, of exploiting the profound loyalty of the Dalai Lama’s followers, to turn them against and silence the CTA’s chosen scapegoats is explained fully in The Gilded Cage, Part 4 –The Shugden Scapegoat. (15) By creating the myth that Shugden practitioners are working against the Dalai Lama and the exile government to harm the health of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause, the Dalai Lama’s followers are thereby encouraged to exclude, threaten and intimidate the Shugden community. Without access to any freedom of press in their own community, the Shugden practitioners are forced to give up their practice, or move out of the area, in what appears to be a form of religious cleansing.
Controlling Radio Free Asia
In his article ‘Free Radio Free Asia,’ (16) Jamyang Norbu gives an excellent description of the aggressive strategies used by the CTA to silence those they perceived to be criticising the Dalai Lama’s Middle way policy in the media. He describes how ‘the largest independent Tibetan language newspaper, Mangtso (Democracy) was finally pressured to close when his Holiness publicly expressed his displeasure with its reporting.’ He also describes tactics used by the CTA to silence Radio Free Asia (RFA):
1. Complaints began circulating from Dharamshala about the political correctness of those speaking on RFA programs.
2. Then two important CTA officials paid a formal visit to the RFA office and gave a talk to Jigme and the Tibetan staff. The two VIP’s deplored RFA’s policy of allowing people on its programs who were opposed to the Dalai Lama and the exile administration
3. RFA’s editorial independence continued to annoy the exile government, and during his entire tenure prime-minister Samdong Rinpoche refused to grant RFA any interviews or meetings, and instructed cabinet ministers and secretaries to do the same.
4. Samdong also conducted a low-profile but relentless crusade against RFA for allowing those “opposed” to the Tibetan government opportunities to express their views on its program.
5. Finally one of the ‘offending’ Radio presenters was sacked and humiliated. ‘Then on the morning of 5th November, RFA president Libby Liu, precipitously fired Jigme Ngabo in humiliating circumstances. He was escorted out of his office by Security personnel. Liu then summoned staff members of the Tibetan Service for a meeting and after giving them all a stern dressing down, announced that Jigme Ngabo was dismissed. One of the staff members asked the reason for the dismissal but was told that it was “personal” and not any of their business. This came as a big shock to the Tibetans at RFA who liked and trusted Jigme Ngabo, and appreciated his respect for their professional integrity and independence.
News of the intimidation tactics spread to America, leading to Congress issuing a warning:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2012
Contact: Tara Setmayer
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46) sent a letter to Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-In-Exile to express outrage that he and other Tibetan leaders are attempting to manipulate the news that is being reported by the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia. Representative Rohrabacher wrote to Sangay, “actions taken by you and other Tibetan leaders … are eroding support within the US Congress for the Tibetan cause. You and your cohorts must immediately cease making disparaging remarks and taking harmful actions aimed at the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia and its loyal, hard working Tibetan-American staff.”
It appears that pressure from the Tibetan Government-In-Exile is responsible for the recent firing of the long time Director of the Tibetan Service within Radio Free Asia, Jigme Ngapo. Ngapo is well respected within the Tibetan community and known for encouraging open discussion about Tibet’s future, including independence, a position not advocated by Sangay and some other individuals in the Tibetan Government-In-Exile.
Congressman Rohrabacher emphasized to Sangay that “I will not tolerate any machinations by you or your associates to deprive the Tibetan people of the joys of open debate and the free exchange of information that Radio Free Asia has provided.” The letter continues that “the 75 Tibetans who have selfimmolated did not do so for the right to become a minority group within Communist China; the policy you are advocating. They are killing themselves for their right to freedom and self-determination and the end of the illegal Chinese occupation.”
Representative Rohrabacher added that he is “also aware of serious accusations that US funding meant for Tibetans may have been misspent… If US assistance has been misspent and perhaps even goes into the pockets of the Communist Chinese and Tibetan power brokers I will learn of it and action will be taken.” In 2012 the US Government granted $7.5 million dollars in support of the Tibetans.Rep. Rohrabacher is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.” (20) Jamang Norbu was so dismayed by the behaviour of all those involved in the sacking that he called for a full investigation: ‘Everyone connected with Libby Liu and the dismissal of Jigme Ngabo should be subpoenaed to appear and testify at the hearing: this would not only include the main players Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, Dhonchoe Lobsang Nyendak and RFA staffer Kalden Lodoe, but even such supporting characters as Special Envoy and ICT chairman Lodi Gyari, speaker Pemba Tsering and Kalsang “Kaydor” Aukatsang, the Sikyong’s self-described “David Axelrod”. This investigtion never took place.(21) Interestingly in this same article Norbu is investigating the involvement of Libby Liu, RFA President, in the whole affair, questioning her motives for carrying the sacking of Ngabo. Norbu believes the reason could be Liu’s ambition: ‘Ms. Libby Liu of RFA appears to have ambitions of becoming the supreme boss of all the combined networks, and has been cultivating the friendship of important people to ensure her bid for the top position.’ This strategy appeared to work for Liu who is seen here seated very close to the Dalai Lama : ‘In a meeting today with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the president of Radio Free Asia discussed the BBG’s plan to strengthen U.S. international broadcasting through the Voice of America’s Tibetan service and RFA.’ (22)
Norbu explains that it is Sikyong Sangay that appears to organise all Liu’s frequent appearances at the Dalai Lama’s public appearances and he rebukes Sangay for apparently putting the Dalai Lama in a position likely to cause some scandal: ‘I think it is outrageously irresponsible of Lobsang Sangay to allow this woman to meet His Holiness so many times in order to gains some political advantage from her. Shouldn’t he have been aware of her background? Before she was RFA president she was a deputy DA in San Francisco where she was involved in a sex scandal with another DA (two days before her marriage to another man) in what was well known as the “Office Whoopee Case”, and which became the butt of jokes in “Late Night With David Letterman.” Just Google “Libby Liu San Francisco Chronicle” for the news reports. Of course His Holiness’s conduct in this matter is beyond reproach. We all know he is affectionate and holds hands with everyone he meets in the most natural and compassionate way. But misunderstandings can happen.’ Norbu is always quick to defend the Dalai Lama’s part in any dubious political activity in the exile community, presenting him as an innocent bystander only, some may think this somewhat naive.
Other Media Control
Jamyang Norbu references two more articles that speak out against the censorship of the media. The first is by the Editorial Board of the Tibetan Political Review, in which they express their deep concern about the aggressive language used by the CTA towards those who would consider being at all critical of government policy. (17)
‘Speaker Tsering also issued a challenge to the Tibetan media. He warned the media not to be “a medium to spread discord within the community”. Specifically, he said that “some people write under pseudonyms articles and comments in websites to destabilise the community and denigrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. He called on the media to “properly verify the contents of and intentions behind such articles and comments”. The Speaker sounds (intentionally or not) uncomfortably close to authoritarian regimes that seek to control popular opinion by controlling or intimidating the media. This is unacceptable in a genuine democracy. The media should be a “Fourth Estate” that investigates and challenges any powerful institution and holds such power accountable.
In a related development, a new group has suddenly formed called Tsokpa Chukchik (Eleven Associations -including the Shopkeepers Association and the Restaurants Association), made up of eleven rather small associations based in Dharamsala, some of which are quite new. Its ostensible goal is to defend the TGIE’s controversial name change but with the threat to “strictly deal with” any person making “baseless” claims against His Holiness, even challenging to take those who hurt His Holiness to court. In a press conference held on this issue, when a journalist asked who are these persons hurting His Holiness, the Eleven Associations told the reporter to go and ask His Holiness.
It is almost incomprehensible that this campaign of attempted intimidation is now being carried out by top Tibetan politicians in the name of His Holiness.’
In the second article Tenzin Nyinjey also gives an example of how the exile government sacked someone who they felt was criticising their policies. ‘Writers like Lukar Jam observed these ominous changes and criticized them in their essays (Lukar was later forced to resign from his work at the Department of Security)’ (7) Tenzin also explains the effect the government’s propaganda has to silence critics, ‘My gut feeling is that this is due to the genius of the Middle Way propaganda that has now fully succeeded in pacifying the Tibetan people’s innate desire for independence, so much so that they don’t bother even when their leaders are openly found engaging in nasty acts of Orwellian censorship.’
Those few who are brave enough to speak out are clearly deeply disturbed by the blatant censorship of the media and call for it to be ended immediately if the government wants to be considered democratic, rather than portraying such clearly fascist characteristics; ‘Criticism is turned into disloyalty to His Holiness, the media is chastised, and a mysterious Tsokpa Chukchik begins making threats. These tactics create a chilling effect among Tibetans who may fear that they will be wrongfully labelled anti-Dalai Lama simply because they disagree with policies of the TGIE leadership or hold different political views. There is now reportedly an air of “us and them” hovering in many Tibetan communities and especially Dharamsala. The only threat to Tibetan unity that we see here is the threat posed by those who (intentionally or not) exploit His Holiness’s name to stifle free speech and democratic debate. Such anti-democratic actions run counter to His Holiness’ dedication to democracy and civil rights. These actions are an embarrassment that should end now. The broader Tibetan cause is harmed when the leadership uses tactics that are associated in most people’s minds with systems other than democracy: equating disagreement with disloyalty, condemning an unnamed “small group of people” for stirring discord, demanding that all legislators uphold the party line, intimidating the media, etc. The TGIE leadership’s experimentation with such tactics is not a proud moment for them, for the Tibetan people, or for His Holiness’s inspired democratic vision.’ (18)
For Shugden practitioners living within the exile community the press censorship has left them without a voice; they are unable to describe how they have been persecuted, nor ask the wider community for the help they need to end the Dalai Lama’s religious discrimination. This is a direct infringement of two basic human rights; the right to freedom of speech and the right to religious freedom. Both of which are written into the constitution as legal rights, to deny these means the government are breaking their own laws.
(1) ‘The Fourteen Characteristics of Fascism.’ Lawrence Britt
(4) ‘The Tibetan Government in Exile.’ Stephanie Romer
(5) ‘Truth Fear and Lies.’ Carole McGranahan