CPJ’s Web site blocked in Olympic press centers

New York, August 12, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Web site, www.cpj.org, is blocked in the Main Press Center and at least one other Olympic press venue, according to a number of foreign journalists there. CPJ calls on the Chinese authorities to provide the free Internet access they promised foreign reporters when they were awarded the Games.

“We call on China and the International Olympic Committee to immediately remedy this situation and ensure unfettered access to the Internet, including CPJ’s Web site,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “China’s press freedom record is an integral part of the Olympic story, and yet journalists working in the official press centers are being denied information essential to their reporting.”

At least four journalists told CPJ this week that its site was blocked within the Main Press Center, using direct, official connections; one source was able to access it. “My colleague inside the Main Press Center says the only [Web site] they can get is Amnesty. Can’t get cpj.org,” one journalist told CPJ. International news reports last week said that certain previously censored Web sites became available in the press centers after International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Beijing organizers met on July 31. One example was Amnesty International’s main site, which had reportedly been blocked the week before.

One reporter also said cpj.org was blocked in the Beijing Media International Center, which caters to Olympic reporters without official IOC accreditation. The site is frequently inaccessible in mainland China. The journalists asked not to be identified because they were not representing their media outlets; more of their responses are available on the CPJ Blog.

CPJ research shows that Chinese authorities frequently limit access to sensitive material online through a combination of sophisticated filtering technology and manpower, as government employees literally comb the Web for information that might put the leadership or its policies in a critical light. Internet access is consequently subject to change, and censorship tactics can be hard to pinpoint. Media outlets have used proxy servers, altered Internet addresses, or other strategies to tunnel around the firewall and gain access to banned sites.

Access during the Olympics was supposed to be completely free. China’s promise that there would be “no restrictions on journalists in covering the Olympic Games,” made when the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing in 2001, gave many observers hope that both local and international media throughout China would benefit from increased openness in the run-up to August 2008, including online.  

As the Games drew near, however, local organizers appeared to increasingly confine promises of openness strictly to official Olympic venues. When the press centers opened on July 8, spokesman Sun Weide emphasized: “We will provide full access for … journalists from home and abroad in all the major sites, including the MPC, IBC [International Broadcast Center], and other places,” he said. Yet on August 1, Sun said access would be “sufficient” but that some sites were banned by Chinese law, according to Agence France-Presse.

IOC Communications Director Giselle Davies told CPJ on August 1 that the IOC would continue to demand “as open access as possible” for journalists heading to China this month. On August 9, Davies suggested that reporters raise Internet problems directly with local organizers, according to The Associated Press.

IOC president Jacques Rogge stuck to the official position on August 2. “There has been no deal whatsoever to accept [Internet] restrictions. Our requirements … remain unchanged since the IOC entered into a host city contract with Beijing in 2001,” he said, according to another AP report.

NOTE: Journalists in China who would like to receive CPJ’s Olympic-related blog posts by e-mail digest should contact CPJ’s Asia program.