Olympics: This site is banned in China

Is this Web site, www.cpj.org, blocked in China? The answer is yes, although there are a few holes in the firewall. Being blocked means that China is not following through on its pledge of complete media freedom for the Games. It also means we are being heard by the government and our criticisms are hitting home.

A number of CPJ sources say that we have been blocked throughout the country for many years. Within the past week, we confirmed the lack of national access with several sources and by running an electronic access check. One exception: I could call up cpj.org from a top Beijing business hotel in August of last year. 

I’m in Hong Kong this year after the government refused to issue CPJ a visa. Today, I checked on access to cpj.org with several U.S. journalists working inside and outside the Main Press Center (MPC) for the Olympics.

Four sources told us that cpj.org is blocked within the Main Press Center, and a fifth said it was not available from within the Beijing Media International Center, BIMC, the workspace for non-accredited journalists. We also found a couple of exceptions: One source working at an office outside the main press venues could access our site; and one source at the Main Press Center could also see us.

Of course, many media companies use proxy servers, altered Internet addresses, or other strategies to tunnel around the firewall and gain access to banned sites. Here are some responses to our survey about access.

From inside the MPC: “Your site appears to be blocked in Beijing. Amnesty International’s site is no longer blocked.  I can, however, reach your site when I tunnel in behind the firewall.”

One gave a flat: “No, it is not accessible inside the MPC.”

From a Beijing-based editor working at an office outside the official press venues: “It’s been available since the brouhaha last week. I can get everything except Falun Gong and some Tibet sites.” The person said they were not using a proxy server at their office. The follow-up question: How about inside the MPC? They had to check: “Bob, how bizarre, my colleague inside the Main Press Center says the only one they can get is Amnesty [International]. Can’t get cpj.org. …”

From within the Beijing Media International Center, or BIMC, the workspace for non-accredited journalists, an editor gave a checklist of what’s available:

“www.freetibet.org – no.
www.cpj.org – no.
www.amnesty.org – yes
www.dreamfordarfur.org – no.”

So we are blocked, although the picture is not absolute and the firewall has holes. Inside the MPC, access is supposed to be unrestricted. It is not. Access outside the Olympic Village appears better than it has been historically. The pattern seems to be greater access in areas where foreigners go online, at business hotels or foreign housing compounds.

For information on how to circumvent online censorship, check out citizenlab’s guidebook in pdf.