Since the eruption of violence in Tibet’s capital city, Lhasa, the Chinese government has attempted to stem the flow of information limiting the access of mainstream media outlets.
As with the Burma uprising last year, the international audience’s eyes have turned to the blogosphere for news.
The Free Tibet blog had anticipated the protests commemorating the Tibet Uprising of 1959 when more than 80,000 Tibetans died trying to end Chinese rule.
As far back as 8 March they were urging supporters to protest in London in solidarity. Now we know that the protests led to a number of deaths.
But with the Communist Chinese government limiting the flow of information and ordering foreign journalists to leave certain provinces of Tibet, supposedly for their own safety, accurate information and first-hand accounts of the violence have been difficult to obtain.
Without the appropriate news outlets to disperse information, the blogosphere has reacted by presenting information of varied accuracies based on citizen reporting.
Information online has included discrepancies over the number of deaths because while the Dalai Lama claims the death toll is 80, the Chinese media says it is 13.
Many major news sources, including the New York Times have issued requests calling for citizen journalists and readers in Tibet to help “report on events there by sending us eyewitness accounts in photographs, video or text” so that any information can be given to the international audience.
The BBC’s eyewitness reports submitted by anonymous Tibetans describe the violence as well. One report described how the television reports in Tibet announce that the situation is under control but the Tibetan said “what really worries me is that I can’t see a single Westerner or foreign journalist. That is of concern.” Another Tibetan echoed the state of confusion writing that “there are all kinds of rumours going around but it is difficult to know what to believe.”
While online reports have aroused international audiences to protest in their own countries, the Chinese government blocked YouTube, CNN as well as other international news media, and broadcasts by the Dalai Lama who has threatened to step down from his position if Tibetans continue the violence.
Inevitably this has stemmed the flow of information to the people of China and Tibet leaving them in the dark about what is happening in their own country. Meanwhile bloggers in China who write about the Tibetan situation are fervently in favour of keeping Tibet part of China.
As the status of the 2008 Olympics comes under scrutiny, celebrity activists including Richard Gere have called for the cancellation of the games. Gere, who is the International Campaign for Tibet chairman has said it would be “unconscionable” to attend the Olympic Games if the Tibet situation is not resolved.
Some blog forums are drawing parallels between the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and the current situation. Other articles are pointing out that although the United States has said it will not bar athletes from attending the 2008 Olympics the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow games. Through the blogosphere the issue has truly reached an international front but cannot be truly international until it is accessible to people within China and Tibet as well.