Olympics-Chinese Media Watch: Checkpoints at Tiananmen and online

Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday stressed the importance of a secure Olympics, calling the responsibility as heavy as Mount Tai. But while Chinese media today reported on the new checkpoints guarding access to Tiananmen Square, no mention was made of a security measure on the minds of many visiting journalists.

Olympic officials today admitted that earlier promises of open Internet access inside the international press center would not be met. Reuters and other news agencies reported that International Olympic Committee spokesperson Kevan Gosper seemed embarrassed by the reversal:

“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,” Gosper said.

“I regret that it now appears BOCOG has announced that there will be limitations on Web site 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, insofar as this affects Internet access, at an earlier stage.”

The blocks on Internet access affect human rights Web sites, information related to the banned religious movement Falun Gong, and other topics that the Chinese web censors routinely monitor.

This CPJ Web site has been blocked to Chinese viewers for some time. We are making inquiries today as to whether it is being blocked within the Olympics press center.

The popular newspaper Beijing Youth Daily and other Chinese news outlets did report on new checkpoints on visitor access to Tiananmen Square. The square in Beijing’s center is a popular spot for domestic and international tourists, but authorities fear it could become a destination for protesters as well. Chinese media reports did not mention the scuffle between broadcasters and officials over the right to broadcast live from the square during the Olympics.

Also missing from today’s Chinese media coverage was mention of a meeting between U.S. President Bush and five dissidents, part of a U.S. effort to put pressure on China regarding its human rights record.