Internet sites still blocked for Olympic reporters - 7/29/2008
Olympic organizers are backtracking on another promise about coverage of the Beijing Games, keeping in place blocks on Internet sites in the Main Press Center and venues where reporters will work.
The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve information, particularly on political and human rights stories the government dislikes. On Tuesday, sites such as Amnesty International or any search for a site with Tibet in the address could not be opened at the Main Press Center, which will house about 5,000 print journalists when the games open Aug. 8.
"This type of censorship would have been unthinkable in Athens, but China seems to have more formalities," said Mihai Mironica, a journalist with ProTV in Romania. "If journalists cannot fully access the Internet here, it will definitely be a problem."
The censored Internet is the latest broken promise on press freedoms. In bidding for the games seven years ago, Chinese officials said the media would have "complete freedom to report." And in April, Hein Verbruggen and Kevan Gosper — senior IOC members overseeing the games — said they'd received assurances from Chinese officials that Internet censorship would be lifted for journalists during the games.
China routinely blocks Internet access to its own citizens.
Gosper, however, issued a clarification Tuesday. He said the open Internet extended only to sites that related to "Olympic competitions."
"My preoccupation and responsibility is to ensure that the games competitions are reported openly to the world," Gosper said.
"The regulatory changes we negotiated with BOCOG and which required Chinese legislative changes were to do with reporting on the games," Gosper added, using the acronym for the Olympic organizers. "This didn't necessarily extend to free access and reporting on everything that relates to China."
Journalists trying to use the Internet on Tuesday expressed frustration, and some also complained about slow speeds. Several said it might be an intentional ploy to discourage use.
IOC officials have said the Internet would be operational by "games time," which began Sunday when the Olympic Village opened.
In a related event, Amnesty International released a report Tuesday accusing China of failing to improve its human rights record ahead of the Olympics.
The group said that in the last year, thousands of petitioners, reformists and others were arrested as part of a government campaign to "clean up" Beijing before the Olympics. It said many have been sentenced to manual labor without trial.
Beijing organizers have been backtracking on the freedom to report.