Tibet Reports by U.S.-Funded Radio Anger China

The Perfect Foil
To Jamming:
Rubber Bands
April 29, 2008; Page A7

HONG KONG -- The earliest reports of unrest in Tibet last month didn't come from a major newspaper, wire service or TV station. They came from a U.S.-funded shortwave radio broadcaster that advises listeners to get around Chinese signal jamming with tinfoil, plywood and rubber bands.

With a current annual budget of $34 million from Congress, Washington-based Radio Free Asia broadcasts news about Asia across the region in nine languages, including Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur, a Turkic language used in China's Xinjiang province.

The Scoop: U.S.-funded shortwave broadcaster Radio Free Asia broke news about recent unrest in Tibet.
The Concern: RFA's federal backing has led to claims it's a propaganda tool, which station executives deny.
Bottom Line: Some listeners rely on RFA for news, and it has earned credit for its scoops.

RFA's reporting on the crisis in Tibet has reignited longstanding ill will with China over the U.S. government's Cold War-era broadcasting system, while also highlighting a question that hangs over the radio service's mission: Is it a news outlet or a propaganda tool?

The Chinese government says the station has done "non-objective, unfair and unbalanced coverage of China for a long time," according to a foreign ministry spokeswoman. "We know many foreign media reprinted their stories about Tibet. These incorrect stories have resulted in much criticism from Chinese people and foreign media professionals. We hope RFA can spread objective, fair, balanced and true information about China in the future," she said. She didn't specify the errors.

RFA defends its work. "We are all ferociously competitive in getting the best, most credible news out first," says Sarah Jackson-Han, spokeswoman for the radio station.

[Listen to a report]
Find out how to modify a radio to pick up RFA.
Listen to the Tibetan-language report that broke the news of the unrest in Tibet on March 10 around 9:30 p.m. Lhasa time (9:30 a.m. EST). Below, read the English translation.
Host, Lobsang Yeshi: We have very urgent breaking news coming from Tibet, with a source inside Tibet, informing us of a huge demonstration by Drepung Monastery, consisting close to 300 monks having staged protest rally against Chinese government. For details we have our reporter, Dolkar, to tell you more.
Dolkar: OK, thanks, Lobsang Yeshi. A source in Tibet who does not want to be identified has called me to inform that 10 March being the anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, the day on which Tibetans observe the Uprising Day anniversary, on this day in Tibetan capital Lhasa, close to 300 monks from Drepung monastery have staged a huge protest rally. The source reports that the monks from Drepung monastery began their protest from the monastery by marching towards the Chinese checkpoint, located towards the west of Lhasa, at which point, they were stopped and suppressed/beaten by People's armed police and other security personals.
We are also getting news that by around 4 p.m., Chinese have blockaded all the roads leading to the western part of the Lhasa city and military trucks and two other kinds of military vehicles are found moving. The military trucks are moving, in a set of sevens at same time along the road. Sources also reported seeing ambulances from hospitals going in the same direction. Sources are expressing fear that it seems the monks might have been hurt and injured under military repression.
Today being 10th March, the security in Lhasa city, especially near the Potala palace and Bakhor Street is reported to be very tight with Chinese personals checking the people's movement. So right now, this is the news we are getting from Tibet.
Source: Radio Free Asia

RFA has no paid staff in Tibet. It has two freelancers who traveled there frequently until the recent unrest and a staff of more than 30 people in Washington who put out the Tibetan-language service. Some Buddhist monks in Tibet say they tune in to RFA to keep up with the news.

The scoop on the unrest in Tibet came from RFA's Tibetan talk show. On the morning of March 10 in Washington, an RFA reporter received an instant message through a Skype account from a regular source. The message said about 300 monks heading toward Lhasa were blocked by Chinese police. "There were some clashes between security forces and monks," the message said, adding, "Some of the monks were injured and about 50 to 60 monks were detained."

Using Skype, RFA's reporter contacted another source in Tibet, who corroborated the news of detentions. RFA then went live with the news from the studio in its Washington headquarters, broadcasting it across China.

RFA was also the first to report deaths in the violence. According to Ms. Jackson-Han, it received several calls from people who said they witnessed the events, including one who "actually saw two people die right in front of him after they were shot by the police," she said.

RFA's report was cited by newspapers around the world, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. China's government has since said about two dozen people died during the rioting in Lhasa, most of them ethnic Han Chinese. Tibetan exile groups say more than a hundred Tibetans were killed in the ensuing crackdown. The radio station later broke news about unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang province, an area facing its own antigovernment, separatist tensions.

A Voice in the Wilderness

RFA broadcasts from the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and about a dozen undisclosed locations. It relies on shortwave radio because a single transmitter can broadcast to an entire continent, depending on weather conditions, time of day and bursts of energy from the sun. The technology was developed in the 1920s and was used throughout the British Empire to relay messages between London and its far-flung colonies.

The Chinese government jams RFA broadcasts by broadcasting Chinese opera, funeral music, gongs, static or other interference on the same frequency, effectively boxing out the RFA transmission. China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television didn't respond to questions about jamming RFA.

[Tibetan monks in India listen to a Radio Free Asia report in March  about a protest against the Beijing Olympics.]
Tibetan monks in India listen to a Radio Free Asia report in March about a protest against the Beijing Olympics.

The station's Web site, which is also blocked in China, features a recipe for how to modify a radio's antenna so that the jamming doesn't completely drown out RFA's broadcast. Necessary supplies include four cup hooks, two rubber bands or string, two sheets of tinfoil, two small wires and a piece of wood. "Plywood or a similar material is OK," the instructions read.

RFA was created by Congress in 1994. It runs under the aegis of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which also runs Voice of America. RFA executives deny claims that the station is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency. It says a station by the same name operating in the 1950s and unrelated to the current broadcaster may have had CIA ties.

RFA's scoops "have been won the hard way -- mainly by cultivating reliable sources in Tibet," the Broadcasting Board of Governors' chairman, James Glassman, wrote recently in a letter to Asia Times Online after the Hong Kong-based Web site published an article that said RFA worked for the CIA.

RFA has critics who say it gives too much air time to news about Chinese dissidents and internal strife. In a 1999 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, former VOA bureau chief Mark Hopkins wrote that "bias in programming is obvious" at RFA and its sister networks. Although they have a founding directive to be neutral, U.S. broadcasting directors "believe they have missions to influence the way foreigners think, live, and are governed," he wrote.

Hot Topic Again

Mr. Glassman's nomination to replace Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has made the objectivity of government-sponsored broadcasts a political issue once again. Taking the stand in Congress in January, Mr. Glassman faced criticism for not making broadcasts in Iran sufficiently pro-America.

[Conflict in Tibet]
Associated Press
Find complete coverage of the conflict in Tibet, including a timeline of the Dalai Lama's relationship with China and the latest news and a history of Tibetan resistance.

"We don't do propaganda," Mr. Glassman said. He said he would work to aggressively counter Islamist extremist messages, but he underscored that stations such as Voice of America "have to be honest." Mr. Glassman's nomination hasn't been approved.

Dick Richter, RFA's founding president, who retired in 2004, says when he first heard the idea for RFA, he was suspicious. "I thought this was going to be a broadcast station whose principle aim would be to appease the right wing Republican faction of the U.S. government and basically be a broadcaster whose principal aim would be to 'kill the Commies,'" he says. "But I said 'that is not what we are going to do.' The legislation says we have to be objective."

There are no reliable estimates of RFA's audience in China or around Asia. "In most of our target areas, people hide their listening from all but those they trust, and in North Korea, listeners have told us they hide their listening even from spouses and especially from children," says John Estrella, RFA's director of external relations.

RFA's reporters aren't officially allowed in many of the places it covers. They say they rely on telephone calls and encrypted Internet communication programs, such as Skype. The station sometimes hires people who have links to human-rights and labor organizations because they are well sourced, says Mr. Richter.

On RFA's call-in shows, listeners call collect to numbers that connect them with RFA's office in Washington and elsewhere, helping the broadcaster build sources and collect tips. RFA says its call-in numbers are sometimes jammed by computer-automated dialing.

Ms. Jackson-Han says RFA has covertly sent correspondents into areas closed off to journalists, such as the jungles around the border of Thailand and Myanmar, to investigate leads. Tipped off that a hospital in China might have been harvesting bodily organs from patients to sell, one reporter went through the hospital floor by floor, she says. "Our reporter could not confirm the organ harvesting, so we didn't touch the story," Ms. Jackson-Han says.

Write to Nicholas Zamiska at nicholas.zamiska@wsj.com and Geoffrey A. Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com

[Find out how to modify a radio to pick up RFA]
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RFE/RL Websites Hit By Mass Cyberattack
Iraq -- computer user, generic, 29Nov2004
The attack prevented users from accessing some RFE/RL sites (file photo)
Several websites run by RFE/RL's broadcast services have been hit by an unprecedented cyberattack, making them inaccessible to the outside world.

The attack, which started on April 26, intially targeted the website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, but quickly spread to other sites. Within hours, eight RFE/RL websites (Belarus, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tatar-Bashkir, Radio Farda, South Slavic, Russian, and Tajik) were knocked out or otherwise affected.

The "denial-of-service" (DOS) attack was intended to make the targeted website unavailable to its users, according to RFE/RL's Director of Technology Luke Springer. "The way this is normally done is by flooding the target website with fake requests to communicate, thereby using up all [the website's] free sources and rendering the site useless to all the legitimate users," Springer said.

RFE/RL has been hit before by denial-of-service attacks, but this attack was unprecedented in its scale, as RFE/RL websites received up to 50,000 fake hits every second.

Springer says this more sophisticated assault is known as a "distributed denial-of-service" attack, in which "the attacker has made use of other machines, distributed its intentions out to other machines, and then all of these machines attack at the same time."

DOS attacks are difficult to protect against, and the software required to carry them out is available on the Internet.

Other Sites Attacked

RFE/RL Belarus Service Director Alexander Lukashuk said he began getting e-mails from frustrated web visitors about two hours after the attack began on April 26. He noted that the problems began on an important date in Belarus -- the 22nd anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear catastrophe.

Lukashuk said that a large Internet audience was relying on RFE/RL's Belarus Service to report live on a rally of thousands of people, organized by the Belarusian opposition. The demonstrators were protesting the plight of uncompensated Chornobyl victims and a government decision to build a new nuclear power station.

Other Belarusian websites were also hit, including the Minsk-based nongovernmental organization Charter 97. Since the attacks, many other independent websites in Belarus have carried content from RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said he is deeply concerned by the attacks. "If free and independent media existed in these countries where we're working and broadcasting, we would have no reason to exist," Gedmin said. "The Belarusians, the Iranians -- they all have basically the same objective. They see free information -- flowing information of ideas and so forth -- as the oxygen of civil society. They'll do anything they can to cut it off. If it means jamming, if it means cyberattacks, that's what they'll do."

Cyberattacks have become more common in recent years, sometimes targeting government institutions or large corporations.

In May 2007, Estonian websites were hit by a wave of cyberattacks. Estonia accused Russia of launching the attacks after Tallinn relocated a monument honoring Soviet troops, sparking anger in Russia and among Estonia's ethnic-Russian population. Moscow denied any involvement.

RFE/RL has taken countermeasures and restored full service to most of its Internet sites. The primary target, the Belarus Service, is still affected.

All of the RFE/RL sites targeted are still being affected by the attack.


Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Radio Free What?

By Patricia H. Kushlis

In her April 22 column in The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum laments the lack of support in Congress and the Bush administration for Radio Free Europe (RFE) which she erroneously claims was the “only source of independent information in Eastern Europe” during the Cold War.

Now I’m not either a proponent or opponent of Radio Free Europe or its Russian language counterpart Radio Liberty. Both were surrogate radio stations operated first by the Central Intelligence Agency then when their covers were blown around 1970 - openly by the U.S. government. Their task was to broadcast information in local languages to Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union not available because of Communist government censorship so that the peoples “behind the Iron Curtain” could hear the unvarnished news of what was happening in their own countries in their own languages.

That few Americans knew – or today know – of RFE’s existence let alone support its continued existence does not surprise me.

Its name, by the way, is RFE/RL, a post-Cold War amalgamation of the once-upon-a-time two separate services.

RFE/RL operates under the restrictions of the little known Smith-Mundt Act which supposedly restricts the US government from propagandizing its own citizens. This means a special Congressional dispensation is required for Americans to have access to US government media products produced by and directed at foreigners. This Act, enacted in 1948 and strengthened in 1972, was, I suppose, fine in its day. But with the Internet, satellite broadcasting and the rise of medium wave stations, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and today’s Europeanization of much of Eastern Europe, Smith-Mundt has now become a 12 inch soft plastic barrier to the American public’s right to know what its government is saying abroad but, as Mountain Runner suggests, it's like the elephant under the table, no one wants to deal with it.

An aside: I was looking at data on Amazon’s Alexa Internet rankings a couple of weeks ago and discovered that the State Department’s newly launched America.gov, an Internet page of indeterminate quality and usefulness aimed at the world outside the US, had a readership that was about 20 percent American. But quiet please, don’t tell anyone in Congress or America.gov’s State Department bosses. America.gov comes under Smith-Mundt and Americans aren’t supposed to know about it or have access to its contents despite the fact our tax dollars fund it along with other entities like RFE/RL.

Given The New York Times story on Sunday of the Bush administration’s successful manipulation of American media coverage of US policy in the Middle East through tainted “expert military analysts” aka retired senior military officers now also raking in the dough from arms manufacturers suggests that continued Smith-Mundting of US government international information sources like RFE/RL and America.gov is a penny-ante farce.

In reality, RFE and RL’s short wave services from Munich during the Cold War provided only one, of several sources, of information that flew through the air from western government media outlets into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. When I lived in Moscow during the late 1970s, we tuned in daily Voice of America, the most universally popular, as well as the BBC. The Soviets and their Eastern European counterparts were far more effective at jamming RL than either VOA or BBC (see excellent comment by Morand Fachot, a former BBC correspondent, on Ms. Applebaum’s column). VOA – as Fachot indicates - was by far the most popular of all.

VOA – like RL and RFE broadcast on short wave. Unlike RL and RFE it brought news of the world in English and other languages to Russians and Eastern Europeans who, wisely, did not trust Mayak and their other own information sources. VOA also carried the immensely popular late night jazz program by the now deceased Willis Conover whose popularity rankings in the Soviet Union placed him – well – up in the stratosphere with the demigods if not the angels.

Applebaum laments that RFE’s operating budget is now reduced to $75 million in rapidly depreciating dollars (the cost of four Apache helicopters according to Jeff Gedmin, its current president) from $230 million at its peak. She has a point. If the US government is going to do something at all, it needs to do it well and that means funding it adequately.

But it seems to me RFE/RL’s continued existence needs reevaluation to be undertaken in a comprehensive review of all US government international information operations and soft power policies once we have a new administration. Under the Bush administration, they have been in shambles for seven years and the two previous administrations did nothing to help.

US government international broadcasting is an underfunded, poorly administered, unmitigated disaster – but then so are almost all the operations and programs which underpin much of the rest of America’s soft power projection abroad.

Between then and now, however, it would be really nice to see more political appointees wash out of the system. This means Gedmin but it also includes Diane Zeleny, RFE/RL’s Director of Communications, who quietly slipped from a teacher’s pet, cushy job in the former Public Diplomacy Czarina Karen Hughes’ office to the RFE/RL staff in September 2007 but only after the American Foreign Service Association objected to her assignment to a career Foreign Service position in Brussels to which she was unqualified.

One might wonder about her qualifications for the RFE/RL job as well. At the very least she could have informed Ms. Applebaum that she has the broadcasting service’s name wrong: please try to remember for the future, OK, it’s RFE/RL not simply RFE.

23 April 2008

With foreign media still barred from Tibet, what is the government hiding ?

Reporters Without Borders called today for the foreign news media to be allowed back immediately into Tibet and nearby provinces with a Tibetan population, where the Chinese authorities have maintained a news blackout and have been conducting a massive propaganda campaign for the past six weeks.

"What is the Chinese government hiding behind Tibet’s closed doors?" the press freedom organisation asked. "Things are clearly far from being back to normal, as the authorities claim. The few reports emerging suggest a very different situation, one of arrests and a climate of fear in the cities and around the monasteries."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The news blackout facilitates the work of the government’s propaganda machine but also the spread of rumours encouraged by certain groups abroad. We appeal to the European Union and the United Nations to try to get the government to allow foreign reporters to travel freely in Tibet and the neighbouring regions."

The organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games yesterday announced that a press trip to cover an attempt to take the Olympic torch to the top of Everest was being postponed indefinitely. Reporters were supposed to have gone to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa first to get adjusted to the altitude, but the Lhasa stage of the trip has been cancelled altogether because of "meteorological" problems, the authorities said. "Only coverage of the torch relay will be allowed," an official said.

No journalist has been allowed to move about freely in Tibet and the regions with a Tibetan population since 14 March. Two press trips were organised by the authorities to Lhasa and to Labrang monastery in Gansu province. Tourists have been banned from visiting the Himalayan region until further notice.

Reporters Without Borders has learned of about 50 violations of the right of foreign journalists to move about freely in the Tibetan regions since mid-March.

The authorities have waged a massive propaganda campaign designed to portray Tibetans as "rioters" and "terrorists." The official news agency Xinhua’s dispatches talk above all of a return to normal and the discovery of weapons in Buddhist temples. Xinhua announced that the authorities have found firearms, dynamite and satellite dishes in 11 monasteries in Gansu.

National and provincial TV stations have been asked to keep broadcasting footage of violence by Tibetans in Lhasa or in the city of Aba in Sichuan province, where Tibetans attacked public buildings.

To prevent the Tibetan population from getting access to uncensored news reports, the authorities have stepped up the jamming of international radio stations that broadcast in Tibetan such as Voice of Tibet and Radio Free Asia. Violating international rules governing short and medium wave broadcasting, the Chinese authorities transmit low-pitched noise on the same frequencies as the foreign stations.

Voice of Tibet manager Oystein Alme told Reporters Without Borders: "We have noted a significant increasing in jamming since 16 March, especially in the cities where the government has invested tens of millions of dollars to install antennae to prevent Tibetans from listening to us."

The propaganda campaign against the "Dalai Lama’s clique" gets a lot of space in the Chinese media based abroad. The state-owned CCTV’s stations that broadcast in foreign languages just show the violence by Tibetans and never refer to the reprisals that followed. Ouzhou Shibao (News of Europe), a newspaper based in France, published a full page on Tibet giving the government’s position.

Chinese Internet users and hackers are also harassing pro-Tibetan organisations. The Tibetan government-in-exile’s site was recently put out of commission by a group of hackers based in China. And several foreign news media, especially websites that allow visitors to post comments, are being flooded with messages that repeat government propaganda word for word.

The Chinese authorities have ordered the media to stick to the official toll of 13 innocent civilians killed and 300 wounded by "rioters." The Tibetan government-in-exile reported that about 100 Tibetans were killed and hundreds were arrested. Some pro-Tibetan groups say thousands are being held in camps where torture is practised.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s constant criticism of the foreign media’s coverage of the situation in Tibet. "Some media deliberately misrepresent the facts and wrongly portray a hateful crime as a peaceful demonstration," Tibetan communist leader Raidi said.


Tibet Exile Radio Says China Jamming It

OSLO, Norway (AP) — China has intensified its jamming of a Tibetan exile radio network's news broadcasts into Tibet during a crackdown on anti-government protests there, the network charged Wednesday.

The Chinese use radio stations inside Tibet to block the shortwave frequency used by the Voice of Tibet, said Oystein Alme, a Norwegian who runs the nonprofit foundation's business office in Oslo. The jamming signals contain music, drumming and noise.

Most of the Voice of Tibet's 13 staff members work at its main editorial office in Dharamsala, India, with Alme handling administration and funding in Oslo. The network started broadcasting in 1996, and has daily evening newscasts about Tibet in Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese. The station says its mission is "to provide a channel for unbiased information and news to the Tibetans living under Chinese oppression in Tibet."

Alme said the Chinese government started jamming its broadcasts almost as soon as they began but now is using two or three signals instead of one to make sure that the signal can't be heard.

"They have been stepping it up in connection with the demonstrations," Alme told The Associated Press. "There has been enormous focus on journalists not getting free access to Tibet. The other side of the coin is that information from the outside is not getting into Tibet."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing had no immediate comment.

Tibetans have been protesting and rioting in Tibet and nearby provinces in the longest challenge to China's rule in the Himalayan region since 1989. The crackdown by Chinese authorities has focused international attention on the country's human-rights record in the run-up to the Beijing Games in August.

The jamming also affects those trying to listen in India, Nepal and Europe, Alme said.


Thales denies selling radio jamming kit to China
1 Apr, 2008, 0020 hrs IST, REUTERS




Write to Editor

PARIS: French defence electronics firm Thales denied accusations by human rights campaigners it sold equipment to China that has helped Beijing scramble radio broadcasts.

French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy said in articles published in the past week that equipment sold by Thales was used to block foreign radio broadcasts into China, "particularly into areas such as Tibet". Media rights campaign group Reporters Without Borders has also said antennae manufactured by Thales is allowing China to interfere with radio broadcasts.

Thales said a former subsidiary had indeed sold "standard short-wave radio broadcasting equipment to China" in 2002 but the equipment was designed for legal civil purposes. "The equipment has been exclusively designed for general public radio broadcasting, and is identical with equipment installed in numerous countries worldwide," Thales said in a statement.

No other similar kit was sold to China, it said. Levy is among a number of high-profile campaigners urging the West to boycott the Olympic Games this year amid criticism of Beijing's response to recent anti-China protests in Tibet. "It's not too late to use the threat of boycotting the Olympics as a weapon," Levy wrote in Britain's Sunday Telegraph.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not ruled out refusing to attend the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, after accepting an invitation from President Hu Jintao in October, but most European leaders have taken a wait-and-see position.