BBC series 'A Year in Tibet' denounced as propaganda

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Free Tibet Campaign has today contacted BBC4 Controller Janice Hadlow to express deep disappointment in the first episode of 'A Year In Tibet', a series beginning tomorrow night on BBC4. Trailers for the series claim the makers had "unprecedented access" to film the lives of ordinary Tibetans. It is clear to Free Tibet Campaign, after watching a review copy, that "unprecedented" did not mean unfettered.

Episode One, 'The Visit', is largely devoted to a visit to a monastery in Gyantse (a town in western Tibet) by Gyaltsen Norbu. Norbu is described at the outset of the programme as "only six when the Chinese declared he was Tibet's new spiritual leader". The narrator continues: "His position has been very controversial ever since".

Free Tibet Campaign finds it inconceivable that the programme completely fails to clarify that Norbu's position is the greatest controversy in the history of Chinaƕs ongoing occupation of Tibet.

The facts are well known: In May 1995. the Dalai Lama recognised a six-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as Tibet's 11th Panchen Lama. Three days later the boy and his family disappeared. Despite numerous requests from national governments, international bodies and human rights organisations, neither the boy nor his family have been seen since."

Yet 'The Visit' makes no mention of the abduction. Instead, 54 minutes into a one-hour programme, the narrator simply says: "The Chinese government rejected the Dalai Lama's choice and appointed one of the other candidates" (that candidate being Gyaltsen Norbu, both of whose parents were members of the Chinese Communist Party).

In a letter to the BBC, Free Tibet Campaign Director Anne Holmes points to "the complete failure of the programme to explain to viewers that in the eyes of Tibetans there are two Panchen Lamas."

Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama's choice to be the real Panchen Lama and Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama, as the "Panchen Zuma" (false Panchen).

A much more accurate view of the attitude of Tibetans towards Gyaltsen Norbu is provided in the following testimony from an exiled Tibetan monk now living in India:

"In 2003, the Panchen Zuma visited our monastery. Everyone who came to visit him was given 100 Yuan and a Khata [offering scarf]. Pictures were taken of him giving head-touching blessings to the local people. It was like a show. Honestly speaking, no one was happy with that, because we have no faith in him. But it was ordered by the Government and we had to do what we were told."

Free Tibet Campaign's letter concludes:

"'The Visit' will leave BBC4 viewers with the impression that Tibetans have accepted Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama and as their spiritual leader. This is simply not true. 'Unprecedented access' should not mean agreeing to film an event stage managed by the Chinese authorities and presenting less than half the story as the truth."

China has acknowledged in official documents that its propaganda on Tibet is best articulated by western figures and broadcasters. Free Tibet Campaign is disheartened that, wanting to produce a photogenic and unique series on Tibet in this Olympics year, the BBC has fallen into China's trap and misrepresented the deeply held beliefs of the Tibetan people.

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Matt Whitticase
Press Officer, Free Tibet Campaign


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