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Seeing black in China

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News producer

BEIJING, China – Quite possibly one of the busiest people in China right now are the television censors.

As international news broadcasters like the BBC World Service Television and CNN International play footage around the clock of the Tibet unrest, viewers with access to satellite TV in Beijing and across cities in China find themselves scratching their heads as reports suddenly go to black whenever the word "Tibet" comes up.

VIDEO: Monks disrupt media tour of Tibet

Sometimes the screen goes black before a report about Tibet airs.

Sometimes the screen goes black right after the report begins airing.

Sometimes the screen goes black midway through the report – as though the censor had stepped away to make a cup of tea and returned a little too late.

Sometimes the screen doesn't go to black at all, and entire broadcasts go to air without interruption.

These include a live transmission by a Hong Kong cable television crew from a Muslim quarter of Lhasa, showing Chinese security forces searching homes the day after the first riots broke out on March 14.

Or, today, when some international broadcasters such as the BBC carried dramatic pictures of Tibetan monks bursting onto a small group of foreign press on a government-orchestrated tour of Jokhang Temple and openly condemning the Chinese authorities.

I wondered whether this footage was allowed to be broadcast in full because the news presenter read over the video speaking in general terms about the situation in Tibet, and so viewers had no idea what the monks were actually saying unless they went online to read about the story.

But if a viewer did get on the Internet in China, Googled "Tibet monks," and tried to click on the Associated Press's article a message saying, "problem loading page," popped up. 

The same thing happens when you try to click on the reports about the monks' outburst on the websites for BBC News, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and even China's very own state-run news agency, Xinhua

NBC video reports and blogs about Tibet on this site also have been blocked, including the World Blog, which is normally accessible in China. 

VIDEO: Witness to Tibet's unrest

So in order to obtain any current news about Tibet, we – like many foreign media – have to rely on our own company Intranet.

For those without access to a company Intranet in China, they have to use a proxy server.

Or else they ask journalists. For days now, the most common refrain from my non-media friends has been, "What's happening in Tibet?" "What have you heard?"

But for once during this year of newly relaxed press regulations in China, journalists are also stumped. Tibet and the surrounding Tibetan communities in China continue to remain off-limits to the media, except for in highly controlled circumstances.