04/09/2008, 00.00
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Beijing’s media war against the Dalai Lama

China’s propaganda department has given Chinese media their marching orders to go after “the biased Western press” and those Tibetans who want to kill the ‘Olympic spirit” and undermine the economic advantages and religious freedom Beijing brought to the Himalayan region.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government has urged state-run media to go on the war path and start an all out campaign to counter the bad publicity dogging the Olympic Games torch relay. The Communist Party's Central Publicity Department issued an internal memo to newspaper editors and television producers to release reports more quickly and defend the official line on Tibet and the Olympic protests by conducting an “unprecedented, ferocious media war against the biased Western press.”

Mainland media are used to waiting for censors' decisions, which can take days to be reached, on politically charged news topics. But now the usual caution has been thrown to the wind and reports and articles can be released as quickly as they are prepared.

The urgency is due to the long delays with which Chinese media responded to reports about Tibetans being killed and protests along the Olympic torch route.

China’s media have responded; since yesterday papers are full criticism for those who are humiliating the Olympic spirit whether in London, Paris or San Francisco.

In an editorial published today, the People’s Daily talks about the “sacred Olympic flame,” “symbol of human values” and “civilisation,” lambasting those who are interfering with the relay and “blaspheme” against the “peace-loving people across the world.”

For China’s press a “handful of Tibetan separatists” are behind the demonstrations, guilty against everything and everyone for trying to advertise the idea of Tibetan independence, making a “stupid” and “futile effort” that will “run counter to their desires”.

There are also rumours that Beijing is hiring celebrities to improve its media image a few months from the start of the Olympic Games.

Perhaps this explains why negative articles about the “the Dalai Lama clique” have appeared alongside articles that provide glowing reports about China’s role in Tibet, about its actions in favour of economic development, complete religious freedom and overall progress, all embellished with enthusiastic statements by and pictures of happy, jolly-go-lucky Tibetans.

On the ground though China is still not allowing journalists, diplomats or international organisations from visiting unchaperoned Tibet and the other regions affected by unrest last month

Meanwhile in San Francisco security around the torch is at its tightest. At present it is in a secret location as Olympic and US officials decide alternative routes for the relay to avoid protesters who might want to use the occasion to criticise Chinese policy over Tibet or Sudan or even the mainland’s human rights record.

In Paris and London, where the torch was carried by Chinese police officers dressed in athletic white and blue jumpsuits, the flame was snuffed out and put into a bus to escape from the demonstrators.

Despite the problems the president of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge has excluded cancelling the torch relay.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry also reiterated that the torch will travel as planned in India and in Tibet where it will climb Mount Everest.

For his part Lhadom Tethong, director of the San Francisco chapter of the Students for a Free Tibet, said: “Our struggle is not against the torch bearers, but against its political use by the Chinese government.”

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