Providing a platform for conversation
Since 1991, VOA’s Tibetan Service has been more than “just another media outlet” for the people of Tibet. Plagued by ongoing human rights abuses, economic disenfranchisement and religious and ideological conflict with China, Tibet is a region in dire need of balanced, reliable news sources in the Tibetan language.
VOA Service Chief Losang Gyatso explains, “Tibetan audiences are starving for any content in their language. VOA’s Tibetan Service is one of the only sources in the Tibetan language where Tibetan people can get news about the world, the United States, and the Tibetan region itself.” The service was begun in 1991, when it was created by a congressional mandate. Losang joined the Service as chief in 2007.
Born in Tibet and raised in exile, Losang is passionately interested in the preservation of traditional culture as well as innovations in contemporary Tibetan culture. He is a well-known contemporary Tibetan artist with an extensive online studio, and an actor, appearing in Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film “Kundun.” Losang’s devotion to his native region is manifest in his leadership of the service. “One of the major problems that Tibet confronts is preservation versus innovation. For the past 50 years in Tibet, there has been so much destruction of Tibetan cultural institutions and ways of life, so there has been a huge emphasis on preserving traditional culture. But at the same time, it is vital to innovate and change. We try to include this important challenge in our discussions.”
The Tibetan Service has embraced the idea of innovation. According to Losang, “There are now more, younger Tibetans using computers with Internet access, so we need to supplement our website with more multimedia. Use of satellite dishes is also increasing.” The Chinese government spends millions of dollars creating Tibetan language content, but most of it is “fluff” such as music and soap operas, and news controlled by the Chinese government.
Considering the difficult situation for Tibetans inside China and the lack of an equal relationship and dialogue between the Tibetan and Chinese people, the Service also has the challenging task of trying to create opportunities for dialogue between the two peoples. Losang believes that “we have a huge opportunity to create dialogue by working with VOA’s Mandarin Service, sharing programming and stories.” Most people inside Tibet are not able to be part of the dialogue about inherently controversial political topics, especially ones as important as the Dalai Lama and his upcoming succession. “People inside Tibet have been cut off from dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We have an obligation to make sure that what’s happening in the Tibetan Diaspora government and the Dalai Lama’s status is clearly understood inside Tibet, and at the same time, if there are differences of opinion amongst Tibetans on these developments, that the news is communicated.”
It is easy to see that for the Tibetan people, VOA is more than “just another media outlet.”