VOA Tibetan service performs an essential job for the people of Tibet: to broadcast the truth honestly…Tibetans call the VOA broadcast their ‘medicine for depression and exhaustion,’ and on days they don’t get to hear it, they say they’ve ‘missed their vital medicine.
The Tibetan Service began broadcasting in 1991 with a 15-minute daily radio show. Today the service broadcasts three hours of TV and 42 hours of shortwave radio programming weekly and engages its audience through Tibetan and English websites and social media platforms. One of the major goals of the Tibetan Service is to provide news coverage of events and issues that relates to the Tibetan people, be it news about Tibet, U.S. policy toward East Asia or news about China not available from other Tibetan sources.
Even with restrictions that VOA Tibetan faces, the TV program Kunleng News still reaches up to nineteen percent of viewers in Tibetan areas. The Chinese government jams VOA Tibetan’s shortwave radio, but since the disruption is targeted towards urban areas, it is not very effective for most Tibetans who live in rural areas. VOA Tibetan content is also available on the service’s website along with social media and mobile apps. The Tibetan Service, with more than forty thousand likes on Facebook, has more likes on Facebook than any other Tibetan media outlet.
VOA Tibetan provides news Tibetans need and seek, helping them overcome the difficult and often dangerous task of listening to free media, as one Tibetan listener expresses in the following letter:
“All of us in Kham (a Tibetan area) are very grateful for the Tibetan broadcast and we thank you very much. Even though we endanger our lives, still we cannot refrain from listening to your program. But there is a request I must make –that is, the timing of one of your programs, the one we receive at 11 o’clock at night. At this time, most people have gone to sleep. So it is easy to detect the people who listen to the program secretly. So the Chinese government did arrest some people, who are still in Chamdo prison. To solve that problem and relieve our danger, please have your program one hour earlier.”
Window to the World
VOA Tibetan offers a window to the world and shows the possibilities of a peaceful society, a hope that is shared by most Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, and the U.S. government. VOA Tibetan provides a different Tibetan identity than the one created by the Chinese government. Kunleng TV produced by the service is the only Tibetan programming not controlled by the Chinese state, and is arguably the most influential and trusted media in Tibet. Programs such as Cyber Tibet and Analysis are “highly trusted” according to Intermedia. Another sign of trust from the Tibetan audience is frequent video and radio clips sent to the service of events happening in Tibet.
The impact of VOA in Tibet can be demonstrated with this letter from a listener that was smuggled out of Tibet.
“It was only in August 1991 that I came to know that VOA has been broadcasting the news of the world in Tibetan. I’ve been overjoyed. It’s as if sight has returned to a blind person. Since that time, I’ve listened to the news every morning at 9o’clock and have shared the news with others. When VOA broadcasts in the Tibetan language, that itself gives real support to the Tibetans’ cause and to Tibetans who are suffering under the oppressive Chinese rule. Therefore we thank you from the bottom of hearts.”
Fire in the Land of Snow
Fire in the Land of Snow is an hour-long documentary that explores one of history’s largest waves of political self -immolation. Since 2009, 119 self-immolations have been known to take place in Tibet. The documentary combines videos smuggled out of Tibet, first hand accounts, and interviews to provide an in-depth and comprehensive view of Tibet’s recent history and the reasons behind these protests.
“Chinese state media have characterized the people involved in these self-immolations as outcasts and delinquents,” said VOA Tibetan Service Chief Losang Gyatso, who narrates the film. “What we found, when we took an honest and balanced look at the issue, was that these people were very community-minded and cared deeply about what was happening in Tibet.”
The documentary won a Bronze Medal at the New York Festivals International Television & Film Awards in the category of Coverage of Continuing News Story, and demonstrates the special area of expertise of the service in creating longer format journalism for complex topics. The film has played at Human rights Film festivals in Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and up for consideration for Amnesty Canada.