Tibet Poll Finds Word of Mouth Most Trusted for News
Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors have unveiled findings gathered recently during the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra teachings in Bodhgaya, India between Dec. 25, 2011–Jan. 15, 2012.
To provide context to these findings, whose respondents included travelers from the Amdo, Kham and Utsang regions of Tibet, presenters also provided a decade’s worth of results from surveys given annually from 2001–2011.
An important finding, according to the BBG, was that the majority of Tibetans view the most reliable and trustworthy source of news to be word of mouth.
Of the 117 subjects questioned, most being male and a third being in the monastic profession (monk, lama or nun), 77% of those surveyed gave the unprompted response that they considered friends and family to be the most trustworthy way to hear about the world; 7% said they didn’t have any reliable news source and 6% said foreign radio, which Betsy Henderson, director of research, training and evaluation at Radio Free Asia, said translates to U.S. broadcasting through Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
As presided over by the Republic of China, television stations are regarded by Tibetans as useful for entertainment purposes only. While 89% of Tibetan travelers surveyed had televisions in their homes, none considered any official Chinese state media outlet to be their main reliable news source.
Using a couple anecdotes to illustrate the power of RFA and VOA in Tibet, Henderson shared one Tibetan’s words that, “If there is no Radio Free Asia, it is like there is no light in the house.” Another, she said, declared that for Tibetans, the first and foremost uniter is His Holiness the Dalai Lama; the second is Voice of America.
Henderson described the lengths that Tibetans will go to receive BBG broadcasts. For instance, she said, if a signal was being jammed by the government, people would travel to the mountains and listen to RFA/VOA and then come back down to relay the news to their families and friends.
For digital media and mobile devices, Rajesh Srinivasan, principal researcher for Gallup, said that 44% reported sending and receiving texts. However, this was also not a trusted way of relaying sensitive information, due to Chinese regulation requiring registration of SIM cards and “extensive monitoring,” according to Srinivasan.
Some of the significant events that Tibetans had heard about through word of mouth included the recent rash of self-immolations as protest (44 is the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire since February, 2009, reported the RFA), as well as Lobsang Sangay’s election as Kalon Tripa (i.e. prime minister) of Tibet’s government-in-exile, in April last year.
Thirteen percent of respondents said they had heard about the elections via RFA and VOA. When it comes to sharing, 92% said they shared what they heard on RFA with others and 86% said they shared VOA reports. And a full 26% said they had shared information from these broadcasts with 51 or more people.
Gallup’s Srinivasan said that this demonstrated the “wide impact of both services.”