On March 14, 2008, in Tibet, protests by the Tibetan people in Lhasa were met with violence and gunfire from Chinese police and troops. An unknown number of Tibetans died that day and in the suppression that followed. Tibetan groups say that hundreds of Tibetans are still missing.
On March 25, 2008, Xinhua, the state-run mouthpiece of the Chinese regime, reported that Western media had misrepresented the events of March 14. Using photos of newspapers or screen grabs from TV broadcasts or websites, Xinhua showed how a photo had been improperly cropped, or how photos or video contradicted what the media reported as having happened, or how a photo that was actually from Nepal was identified as being from Tibet.
CNN, BBC, Berliner Morgenpost, Germany’s N-TV, the Times of London, and the New York Times were all implicated in Xinhua’s report.
The year 2008 was China’s Olympic year, and the CCP prepared carefully in order to showcase itself to the world. The CCP worried that in response to the massacre in Lhasa, International Olympic Committee member states would boycott the games. So Xinhua was used to attack Western media, providing the Chinese regime deniability for its crimes in Tibet.
Xinhua also sought to discredit for the Chinese people the Western media’s reporting on the suppression in Tibet in particular and the Western media in general.
Xinhua published the comment of a Chinese blogger responding to how CNN had used a photo that turned out to have been cropped. The blogger said the Xinhua report “fully exposes the true face and falsity of the so-called justice and objective reporting the Western media have followed.”
A long-standing propaganda claim deployed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is that there is a conspiracy by the West directed against China.
Another blogger’s comment published by Xinhua reinforced this meme: “Western media often attack China’s democracy and human rights situation. The true purpose of them [Western media] is to attack the Chinese government, curb the rising of China, and create the momentum for splitting China.”
Chinese people influenced by Xinhua’s report—or by its broadcast or publication by other media throughout China—would have been too distracted by feelings of outrage and patriotism to question the regime’s account of what happened in Lhasa on March 14.
Behind the Scenes
That several Western media would all simultaneously make the mistakes reported by Xinhua is strange and mysterious. With such basic errors, some of the West’s most prestigious news outlets damaged their long-cultivated reputations.
In normal situations in mainland China, the CCP’s information blockade is extremely strict. In situations such as Tibet in March 2008, the information blockade is much stricter, and it is very difficult to deliver sensitive information through the Internet to anyone outside China.
Reporters from Western media in Lhasa would have been strictly monitored. With different information channels closed, who had the ability to spread photos or videos to Western media in time for use in their reports? Besides agents working for the CCP, no one could have done it.
Thus, a news outlet would be given a cropped photo, which it would publish, and then Xinhua would publish the original photo, seemingly discrediting the Western media.
The Epoch Times recently encountered a situation similar to what other international media encountered in the Tibetan case. Epoch Times reports on a massive explosion in Nanjing on July 28 quoted eyewitnesses and hospital personnel who placed the death toll far higher than that admitted by the authorities, embarrassing them. Included with one of the initial reports was a photo said to show dozens of burned bodies in Nanjing.
The Epoch Times learned later that the photo had been provided to a trusted source in China by a CCP agent. A day after publishing the photo, The Epoch Times editorial staff realized the photo said to be from Nanjing was in fact from Africa. An uncropped version of the photo was available that showed a group of blacks looking at the burned bodies.
The CCP’s media published the uncropped photo in an attempt to discredit The Epoch Times, just as Xinhua sought to discredit the media reporting on the massacre in Tibet. But The Epoch Times had acknowledged the error, which made the CCP’s efforts pointless.
On Feb. 9, 2009, CCTV’s brand-new building in Beijing burned down. The Chinese people applauded. The Chinese media may often succeed in fooling the Chinese people, who have little access to independent information. But the Chinese people know the role the media outlets play and hate them for it.
At the same time, journalists in China lost their dignity and independence long ago. They, too, are victims.