In the past, China’s central government has maintained strict control over what kind of media attention Tibet receives, especially from foreigners. Now one French journalist seems to have particularly upset China’s high-ranking powers with his documentary “Seven Days in Tibet,” triggering harassment from authorities since the film’s television debut on May 30.
According to Reporters Without Borders, an organization that advocates for journalists’ freedom of expression and information, Cyril Payen, a southeast Asia reporter with the French television station France 24, has been harassed by Chinese diplomatic personnel and has also received threats following his documentary’s initial broadcast. RWB said that Chinese embassy employees went to the news channel’s Paris offices demanding that the documentary be taken down from their website. Payen recounted the events to RWB, saying that two Chinese embassy officials spoke to France 24 CEO Marc Saikali for two hours, criticizing the broadcast as “riddled with errors.”
But the station stood by Payen and refused to delete the video. Payen, who was reportedly traveling to Thailand at the time, was also threatened by Bangkok-based Chinese embassy personnel upon his arrival in the southeast Asian country. Payen said that on June 4, in Bangkok, he was asked to meet with Chinese officials at the embassy. Payen instead suggested meeting at a hotel, but the diplomats ruled out any meeting outside the embassy. After receiving several anonymous calls and texts, Payen said he received an “openly threatening” message from a female embassy employee.
“Such unacceptable behavior might be expected from the mafia but not from senior diplomats,” RWB said on its website. “It is acceptable for an embassy to express its disagreement with a report,” the organization reasoned. “But it is completely unacceptable for diplomats stationed in France and Thailand to try to intimidate a news outlet into modifying editorial content, to harangue a journalist, and to summon him with the intention of interrogating him.” While these practices may be more common within Chinese borders, using official pressure to cajole or bully the media in “free countries” should not be tolerated, the organization added. “Such methods are undoubtedly normal in China, and that is regrettable, but they have no place in a free country.”
RWB is calling on Paris to seek out the overseas Chinese diplomats and reprimand them. “French authorities must condemn the Chinese government’s use of such aggressive methods,” the group demanded. Foreign journalists have been barred from visiting Tibet because of the ongoing unrest and protests that have been reported in the region and in nearby provinces with significant Tibetan populations. Many Tibetans and advocate groups like the Free Tibet group hope to bring attention to the areas of unrest despite strict censorship by Beijing.