IOC must press Beijing to meet media commitments

New York, April 1, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to insist that Beijing ensure freedom for the press to report in the run up to and during August’s Olympic Games. The IOC’s coordinating committee is in Beijing for a final three days of meetings before the Games start in August. After the first round today, the IOC said it had insisted on open Internet access during the Olympics, according to news reports.  

“This morning we discussed and insisted again,” Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission said, according to The Associated Press. “Our concern is that the press [should be] able to operate as it has at previous games.” The IOC did not specify whether they were calling for the Chinese government to open the Internet to journalists, foreign or local, or to everyone in the country.

“The Chinese government guaranteed the country would be open for the press when it was awarded the Games,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Asking at this late stage for an uncensored Internet only highlights how little progress has been made. We urge the IOC to exert its influence at this critical final meeting to push China to finally enact its promised reforms.”

On the day before the Olympics were awarded in July 2001, the Beijing organizing committee promised international and domestic media “complete freedom” before and during the games.

Yet the Chinese press still confronts massive censorship. 24 journalists are behind bars in China; at least 17 were arrested for work conducted online, according to CPJ research.
CPJ has documented Beijing’s consistent failure to live up to its host city agreements in a special report, Falling Short: As the 2008 Olympics Approach, China Falters on Press Freedom.

Relaxed regulations to assist foreign reporters in traveling and conducting interviews without official permission are in effect between January 2007 and October 2008. Yet travel is restricted “to places open to foreigners designated by the Chinese Government,” according to the Service Guide for Foreign Media issued by the Beijing organizing committee. Foreign media were recently expelled from Tibet and surrounding areas to prevent them from covering Tibetan demonstrations that turned violent. Two dozen foreign reporters were taken on a government tour of Lhasa on March 27, according to international news outlets.

IOC president Jacques Rogge told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he did not believe the human rights situation in China had deteriorated since 2001. “I dispute that, I challenge that,” he told them. The IOC is engaged in “silent diplomacy” with Beijing, he said.