The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has admitted cutting a deal with the Chinese to allow the blocking of press access to some sensitive websites during the forthcoming Beijing games - despite previous assurances there would be no such censorship.
The IOC's press chief, Kevan Gosper, had said "internet access for the 21,500 media accredited for the August 8-24 Games would be 'open'", as Reuters puts it. However, he told the news agency yesterday: "I ... now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games related."
Gosper elaborated: "It has been my belief, and I have expressed it consistently, that the international media would enjoy free and open access to the internet at Games time for reporting the Olympic Games and that censorship would not be an issue."
"I regret that it now appears [Olympic organiser] BOCOG has announced that there will be limitations on website access during Games time and, while I understand that sensitive material not related to the Olympic Games continues to be a matter for the Chinese, I believe BOCOG and the IOC should have conveyed a clear message to the international media, in so far as this affects internet access, at an earlier stage."
Reuters today unsuccessfully attempted to access Amnesty International's website from the main Olympic press centre, as well as sites relating to banned spiritual group Falun Gong. Amnesty "released a report on Monday slamming China for failing to honor its Olympic human rights pledges", which evidently didn't go down too well with the powers that be.
BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide insisted at a press confernece: "We are going to do our best to facilitate the foreign media to do their reporting work through the internet. I would remind you that Falun Gong is an evil fake religion which has been banned by the Chinese government.
He added: "I said we would provide sufficient, convenient internet access for foreign journalists to report on the Olympics."
While the Chinese authorities were praised for their stance on reporting the 12 May Sichuan earthquake, following their decision back in January 2007 to loosen controls over foreigners reporting in the country, "foreign media in China continue to complain of harassment by officials and Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this month saying China was not living up to its pledges".
Liu Binjie, the head of China's Ministry of Press and Publications, told Xinhua today that such criticisms defamed China "with stereotypes constructed from hearsay and prejudice in their mind, regardless of the reality".
He added that "new media regulations were being drawn up to replace those issued for the Olympics, which will expire in October", and promised: "China's open door to the foreign media will not close after the Games."
Liu concluded: "We regard the 12 May earthquake and the Olympic Games press coverage as an important test of the media operation system reforms and will explore building a more open and transparent media system after the Games." ®