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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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March 14, 2005

No Birthday for Tibet

A supporter of Tibet writes:

March 10th was the Tibetan National Uprising Day commemorating the March 1959 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa to protest the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Chinese troops brutally put down the uprising and Lhasa was littered with corpses of Tibetans. Yet there was not a single reference to this in the Seattle Times of the 10 March. Not even the "Today In History" column in The Odds and Ends section mentions it. I find this omission bad -- I'm sure the Chinese would be happy though.

Similarly Tiananmen Square is often mentioned in the Western press but never the Lhasa riots in the 80s when, again, hundreds of Tibetans were slaughtered. After more than 50 years the Chinese still a have brutal grip on the Tibetans. However, we do not see much in the Western press about conditions in Tibet because Beijing keeps visiting journalists under strict control or out of Tibet altogether.

I replied to him: "That's the first I've heard of Tibetan National Uprising Day, and I imagine there are more reasons for not hearing of it than that China keeps journalists out. I haven't seen much in the way of Tibetan exile protests (except at the WTO in 99). I haven't heard of any guerrilla movement or terrorist program or Gandhian resistance. No country next to China is going to act as a base for a nationalist movement and the Tibetans are not renowned as fighters. Wasn't it the Brits who invaded about a century ago and beat them on their own ground? If there were another uprising, China would crush it and no one would intervene--and everyone knows that. I think the Tibetans have a lost cause, at least for my lifetime."

Probably this was taken as a callous reply--that I don't care about the Tibetans. I was trying to explain a news editor's thinking. A thousand things come across his desk, and he has to decide, quickly, Who needs to know this? Who cares about this? Who will this affect? A thousand foreign causes vie for attention in the small segment of the American press devoted to international news. Wars and disasters come first, particularly those involving Americans. There is not much room for the nationalist yearnings of a people who are quiescent. An anniversary is no more than a "peg" for such a story; it is not a story itself unless someone does something to make it a story.

I recall an article the Times editorial page ran that was critical of Israel. A reader wrote in, furious, claiming that we had deliberately insulted Jewish people by printing that article on Adolf Hitler's birthday. She knew it was Hitler's birthday; none of us did. I doubt if anyone on the paper knew it was the anniversary of an uprising in Tibet 45 years ago.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at March 14, 2005 11:47 AM



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