The problem with Tibetan journalism

 Kiara O'Gorman

Kiara O'Gorman

By Kiara O'Gorman

TOOWOOMBA, Australia, 13 December 2012

With the spate of self-immolations of young Tibetans recently, there is a need more than ever for Tibetan journalists to strive for good, objective journalism. However, as a journalist myself, I am finding that the bulk of Tibetan reporting is skewed towards the opinionated.

In order to open up communication channels between Beijing and Dharamshala there needs to be effective and accurate reporting methods in place — on both sides; otherwise it becomes inflammatory journalism we see so easily in Western tabloids.

Do not get me wrong — I do not think this type of reporting is intentional, nor am I to say Tibetan journalism is not good journalism. These men and women work in difficult conditions with little or no payment. There is no denying these men and women deserve our admiration and our attention — specifically from the West.

For this reason there is a need to bring Tibetan journalism to worldwide standards of:

  • accuracy
  • thoroughness
  • fairness

The specifics are detailed below.

  1. Avoid loaded terms. “Regime” and “repressive” are words commonly used in news stories to describe the Chinese government. While what they describe may be true, these words have no place in journalism — only fictional stories. Connotation and denotation are somewhat difficult concepts for journalists to grasp, but we must always strive to assess exactly what we are writing.
  2. Cease the use of adjectives in news stories unless it is a quote. The reader needs to form their own opinion of the situation.
  3. Cease US funding of some Tibetan journalism organisations. Tibetan journalism is to be for Tibetans — not to appease US anti-China sentiments.
  4. Be aware of the need to interact with the audience. While some Tibetan blogs do exactly this, it is important for freelancers to improve their journalistic skills through citizen journalism. The audience should be able to have input into the news story, especially if they are credible witnesses to an event. Follow-up stories should ensue about a given event from multiple perspectives.
  5. The need to be transparent. This one is a given in good journalism. Personal bias, however unconscious, needs to be addressed in the written article before it is published. This is not to say that personal bias should be absent from an article, but it needs to be done in a diplomatic and non-inflammatory way regarding ideologies opposing those of the journalist.
  6. Attempt to name sources. Though potentially dangerous to those involved, it certainly adds credibility to any claims made in a story. In fact, it is generally the standard in Western journalism to not publish claims if a source cannot be named. I feel the same about Tibetan journalism specifically in regards to news stories about self immolations.

Lastly, and most importantly, it is pertinent that Tibetan journalists come to a consensus as to what “free Tibet” means. Is it China free? Or secular? Is it politically autonomous? While the rhetoric behind “free Tibet” is admirable it offers no reasonable assurances that a Tibetan government would be free of corruption, or that Tibet would be a place Tibetan people would want to be.

I believe the real question is not of a “free Tibet”, but what that “free” Tibet would look like. Should it be a Westminster-style democracy? A presidency? Or a return to theocracy? Tibetan journalists must pave the way for discussion about this.

I believe wholeheartedly that the key to resolving the Tibet issue lies in its journalists — the watchdogs of the lives of the people they serve. There needs to be a push for less censorship in Chinese journalism; I feel could happen under the new government that is pushing for less internal corruption. These processes will all take time and an investment into good education for both parties; however time is not of the essence for exiled Tibetans all over the world losing language and culture for a variety of reasons.

We can only hope some great reformations both in Beijing and Dharamshala are made in the next five to ten years. Journalism is the best place to start.


About the author

Kiara O’Gorman is a freelance writer and media consultant who lives in Toowoomba, Queensland — though she will be on her next big overseas adventure soon! She hopes to, in the future, help non-profits and educational institutions in ESL countries market themselves in English.

Copyright © 2012 Kiara O'Gorman Published in Tibet Sun Posted in Opinions » Tags: , ,