How Much Do the Chinese Know About Tibet?

With all eyes on Tibet and its violent anti-China protests this week, Beijing has been trying its hardest to control the world's view of the crisis, affecting journalists and citizens alike.

Chinese authorities report that 19 people have been killed. Tibetan exile groups have claimed over a hundred deaths.

Since the violence began in Tibet, officials in Beijing imposed strict Internet controls in an effort to regulate the news emerging from Tibet and neighboring provinces. Google News and YouTube, along with Taiwan news sites, were blocked last weekend.

Highly trafficked Chinese blogs such as Tian Ya were highly censored as well. Chinese versions of Yahoo and the wildly popular Microsoft MSN ran identical reports from the government run news agency Xinhua.

"CCTV has reported [on Tibet]. Xinhua News Agency has also reported it. But Tianya cannot," one user posted on a tourism-themed thread on Tian Ya's public bulletin boards.

Liu Yong, 30, an editor who lives in Beijing said he immediately felt the online impact as the Tibet conflict escalated earlier this week. On Sunday and Monday, he noticed that there was markedly less Chinese language coverage on the issue.

"I couldn't get onto Yahoo.cn's coverage of the situation in Tibet at first. So I tried to check foreign news outlets such as the [Associated Press]," Liu said. "I had trouble accessing."

Peter Wing, a 24-year-old American working in Beijing, also encountered the censorship this week.

"I first heard about the riots on CNN while watching TV at home [in Beijing]. They went to a 'Breaking News' segment to cover the story, and the screen went black for about five minutes," Wing said.

Wing was also prevented from accessing Reuters articles on the topic.

"I have never come across a specific article that has been blocked by China's firewall. Usually, if something is blocked, it's an entire site."

Journalists Affected

For journalists in China, getting reliable information on Tibet has at times been at the mercy of the Chinese government. Journalists and tourists have been banned from entering the region.

"It [has become] evident that there was some correlation between concern about unrest spreading and the degree of confidence that the official felt that the situation was under control," explained Francis Moriarty, a Beijing-based journalist from Radio Television Hong Kong.

"The more it looked like [the news of the protests] might spread, the more the news would get eliminated."

In China, censorship of popular sites is routine. Directly accessing Wikipedia, BBC News and various blog platforms is rare if not impossible. Google "Tiananmen Square" from a Beijing computer and search results will detail travel itineraries and images of the square dotted with tourists and trinket vendors with no mention of the famous democracy protests.

How Internet Censorship Works

The Central Propaganda Department is responsible for overseeing censorship in China. Several separate state agencies censor online content by blocking websites, blogs, bulletin boards and e-mail.

There is a variety of ways that online information is censored. When using a search engine, certain keywords have been limited to provide filtered search results. At times, an error page will appear. At the highest level, selected IP addresses are blocked.

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