The Streisand Effect

China overreaches after French documentary on Tibet, ensuring that everyone will now watch it

June 12, 2013
June 12, 2013

China is infamously restrictive when it comes to journalism, and is doubly prickly when it comes to reporting on Tibet. But even by those standards its appears to have counter-productively overreacted to a documentary on Tibet by French journalist Cyril Payen—deploying its diplomats in Paris to demand the report be taken down, and harassing Payen on a subsequent trip to Thailand. As a result, the documentary will now come to the attention of a much larger global audience.

After eight months of trying, Payen secured a visa to visit Tibet earlier this year. He did not disclose that he was a journalist, making his visit “clandestine,” according to an account by Reporters Without Borders. A few days after his report documenting Beijing’s harsh treatment of ethnic Tibetans aired on the France 24 network, Chinese diplomatic personnel visited the station’s office:

Payen was leaving Paris for Bangkok on 3 June, [when] the Chinese embassy in Paris contacted France 24 and asked to meet with him. As he had by then already left, two embassy officials went to France 24 to talk to its CEO, Marc Saikali. For two hours, they accused the station of broadcasting a mendacious report that was “riddled with errors” and demanded its removal from the website. The station refused.

After Payen arrived in Bangkok, he was contacted on his mobile phone by Chinese embassy staff there:

Asked to go to the embassy as soon as possible, Payen said he was willing to meet at a Bangkok hotel, but the Chinese diplomats ruled out a meeting anywhere but the embassy. The embassy then stepped up its harassment of Payen, who received several anonymous calls and many texts. A message left yesterday by a female member of the embassy’s staff was openly threatening.

Surely there must be a Chinese equivalent to the phrase, “closing the barn door after the horse has bolted?”

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