Monday, February 18, 2008

Chinese editor resigns over fake Tibet photos

"I have no reason to continue my sacred career as a newsman. I am not qualified for the job," Xinhua quoted Liu, the photographer, as saying in a statement.

This article is interesting on several levels.

First, look at the quotation above by the photographer who spliced together a photo of endangered Tibetan antelope near the very controversial Tibetan railway. The photographer's word choice for his resignation is just not something you would hear in this country. We do not call our careers "sacred". Even more importantly, we deflect blame. In the U.S. the journalist would probably say something like "I was under pressure" or "I was trying to improve my career" whereas Liu stated "I am not qualified for the job."

Secondly, this is a very touchy subject. The Chinese have been under great pressure to demonstrate that their railroad has not harmed the fragile ecology on the Tibetan plateau. Damage to the permafrost and decline of animals such as the antelope have been the two most contentious issues. In fact, just recently I read an article by a scientist studying decline of the antelope in Tibet. The Chinese government had used the photo of antelope grazing by the railroad to bolster their case, but now they haven't an antelope leg or antler to stand on. Click on link to see the Chinese government's web page asserting that the antelope has adapted to the railroad. Liu's photo is at the center of this page. This scandal has only furthered discussion of an issue on which Beijing would prefer to stay silent.

Finally, this issue flames the world-wide sentiment that the Chinese should not be occupying Tibetan lands. China's superfast trains carry more Chinese tourists, immigrants, and industry which chip away not only at the ecology but the culture of Tibet.

It will be interesting to follow this trail to see where it lands. The speedy and comfortable train will not be derailed, but neither will the opposition.

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