China expels Hong Kong journalists from Tibet

March 18th, 2008 - 1:14 pm ICT by admin  

By Jaideep Sarin
Hong Kong, March 18 (IANS) At a time when China is under international pressure to give greater access to the media in the run up to the Olympic Games, Chinese authorities have packed off nearly 20 Hong Kong journalists from Lhasa. Media, both electronic and print, in Hong Kong is making the Chinese authorities feel uneasy with the state of turmoil in Lhasa and other places in Tibet after violence broke out in that territory over the last few days.

With the Chinese mainland media openly towing the Communist regime’s stand on the Tibet issue and blasting the Tibetan spiritual and temporal head, the 14th Dalai Lama, for indulging in separatism, the media in Hong Kong has mostly been vocally critical of China’s handling of Tibet and the suppression of Tibetans over the last few decades.

Several stories are being published in newspapers and magazines and shown on TV here about the turmoil inside Tibet. Most of the coverage has not been kind to China.

Though a special administered region (SAR) under China itself, the media in this bustling Hong Kong is considered rather free compared to the strict guidelines under which the media in China functions.

Hong Kong was handed over to China by Britain July 1997.

The immediate provocation for the evacuation of Hong Kong journalists from hotels in Lhasa over the weekend was the live reporting done by a Hong Kong-based television channel of the search for suspected rioters carried out by Chinese authorities and security forces in a hotel there.

Just after the footage was aired, the authorities tracked down the concerned reporters and soon rounded off all journalists from Hong Kong.

“‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ yelled the officials as journalists put their hands up as if they were criminals caught in a police raid,” one of the bundled out journalists said.

The officials interrogated the journalists and took away their footage saying that it had created a bad impression about the image of mainland China.

South China Morning Post journalist Choi Chi-yuk got a knock on his hotel door after 1 a.m. and he and his photographer too were bundled out. But not before their room and belongings were thoroughly searched and their photographs and video images confiscated.

“It took me a day to travel from Hong Kong to Lhasa but my departure from the trouble-torn city was more swift and sudden,” Choi said.

The Hong Kong journalists association has reacted angrily to the decision of China mainland authorities to ban reporters from covering events in Tibet.

“This ban is unacceptable. The decision is a breach of rules laid down in January last year to facilitate Hong Kong and Macau media coverage of the Olympics Games. The reporters were free to conduct interviews without seeking permission from authorities,” the association said in a statement, reacting to the expulsions.

“We are concerned that the demand for journalists to leave will only give the impression that the truth is being covered up. It is not conducive for the country to build an open image,” the association said.

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