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  • On the Scene in Beijing -- China Cracks Open the Web for Olympic Journalists


    08/01/08

    Sun Weide, BOCOG's deputy media chief, refuses to say whether any more politically sensitive websites will be unblocked. (ATR)
    (ATR) Despite IOC pressure on Beijing organizers to provide unfettered internet access for media reporting at the Olympics, Games organizers appear not to be listening.

    On Friday, only the Amnesty International site and the BBC Chinese language website were unblocked in the Main Press Center in Beijing, leaving a slew of politically sensitive websites behind the great firewall of China.

    The improvement would still appear to fall short of meeting IOC requirements. The IOC issued a stern warning to BOCOG late Thursday to keep its promise to allow unfettered internet access for media.

    "We will actually honor our bid promise and provide sufficient and convenient internet access to reporters," Sun Weide, BOCOG’s deputy director of media, told Around the Rings.

    Sun says that "internet access in China is fully open", a claim which is patently untrue.

    "The Chinese and foreign reporters can use the internet to cover the Olympic Games and I think the channels of doing that are smooth," he says.

    Sun has spent the past two days fending questions from the media about the blockade against politically sensitive websites. His latest comments come after Friday’s press conference on Olympic sports competition organization.

    Pressed by reporters to clarify any movement in BOCOG’s position on internet censorship, Sun refused to say whether any more websites would be unblocked.

    "We have been working very, very closely with the IOC to provide the best possible working conditions for reporters," he says.

    Sun spent just two minutes responding to reporter questions on the issue before walking out of the press briefing room.

    Hein Verbruggen, chair of the IOC coordination commission for Beijing and Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli met with Games organizers and Chinese authorities late Thursday in a bid to resolve the internet access dispute.

    "The issues were put on the table and
    IOC president Jacques Rogge arrives in Beijing Thursday to be greeted by questions about internet censorship. (Xinhua)
    the IOC requested that the Olympic Games hosts address them," the IOC said in a statement.

    "We trust them to keep their promise. The IOC would like to stress that no deal with the Chinese authorities to censor the internet has ever in any way been entered into," said the IOC statement.

    The Amnesty International website is now open to media working in the Main Press Center where 5,600 accredited journalists and photographers from over hundreds of news organizations will cover the Olympics.

    The lead story at www.amnesty.org is headlined "Chinese authorities’ broken promises threaten Olympic legacy".

    The websites still blocked include the Free Tibet campaign, Tibet Government in Exile and sites relating to the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, however, a Wikipedia site on Tibet is available.

    You Tube video clips of the bloody military operation are blocked. Sites relating to Falun Gong, the anti-Chinese Communist Party spiritual group are also unavailable to reporters.

    The row over internet censorship flared up as IOC president Jacques Rogge arrived in Beijing amid tight security Thursday night. He declined to comment on the matter with reporters at the airport.

    But he is sure to face questions over internet access in the coming days, having said that international media would be able to work unimpeded in reporting the Games.

    Rogge, who is staying in the Olympic Village, will chair meetings of the IOC Executive Board Saturday and Sunday before the 120th IOC Session convenes for three days of meetings.

    The Beijing Olympics opening next Friday is the second Summer Games under his watch as IOC president.

    Hours before his arrival, Rogge’s predecessor and IOC honorary president Juan Antonio Samaranch landed in the Chinese capital. The 88-year-old Spaniard is expected to stay for the course of the Games.

    With reporting from Mark Bisson in Beijing.

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