CPJ meets with IOC head to discuss China concerns

Lausanne, Switzerland, July 15, 2008–A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met today with the head of the International Olympic Committee and expressed its concern about a variety of press freedom issues surrounding this year’s Beijing Olympics, from the ongoing harassment of international reporters to the jailing of 26 Chinese journalists.

CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger and Executive Director Joel Simon told IOC President Jacques Rogge that China must make significant progress to meet the commitment it made to allow journalists to freely cover the Games. Despite recent advances on issues such as satellite feeds and live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square, international journalists in Beijing continue to report incidents of harassment and say their sources are often intimidated. Chinese journalists operate under a broad array of restrictions.

The delegation also told Rogge that CPJ would be launching a 24-hour hotline to assist journalists who encounter problems reporting in China during the Games. CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz will be based in Hong Kong. Dietz was not granted a visa to travel to Beijing.

Also representing the IOC were Chief of Staff Christophe De Kepper and Communications Director Giselle Davies.

When the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing in 2001, China specifically promised that “there will be no restrictions on journalists in covering the Olympic Games.” Wang Wei, a vice president for the Beijing organizing committee, told a press conference on July 12, 2001, the day before the Games were given to Beijing, “We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China.”

CPJ has documented the failure of China so far to live up to this standard in its special report, Falling Short: Olympic Promises Go Unfilled as China Falters on Press Freedom. The 78-page report, updated in June, explains China’s vast system of media control and the pressure the government continues to exert on Chinese and foreign journalists.

With the August 8 opening ceremonies less than five weeks away, China continues to impose restrictive media policies. Despite a January 2007 easement of rules on foreign journalists, which was supposed to allow them to report more freely, foreign reporters say they are still unable to travel to Tibet or the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Correspondents report that many of the people they have interviewed have been visited subsequently by security personnel.

CPJ records show that 26 journalists are in jail for their work in China. That is more than in any other country, a distinction that China has held since 1999. Intensive government censorship remains in place, with news outlet subject to strict orders from the country’s Central Propaganda Department.