Some Internet limits remain at Games
CPJ urges Olympic officials to continue open-access efforts
New York, August 1, 2008—Internet censorship at the Olympic press center eased today, but officials with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged that the full access once promised was not being delivered. Foreign journalists reported they could see some formerly inaccessible sites, but others remained blocked.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the IOC to continue efforts to persuade Beijing organizers to lift remaining Internet restrictions at the Main Press Center and other reporting venues. “Lifting the censorship of some sites is an improvement, but it is far from sufficient,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.
IOC officials met with local organizers on Thursday and asked them to address the wide international outcry that surfaced when the Internet censorship became apparent earlier this week, IOC Communications Director Giselle Davies told CPJ in an interview today. Since that meeting, “a number of sites have opened up,” Davies said.
IOC officials, including the organization’s president, Jacques Rogge, had repeatedly promised in recent weeks that there would be “no censorship” of the Internet for reporters working at the Games. Asked today whether the organization was backing away from the “no censorship” pledge, Davies said “the IOC will continue to encourage as open access as possible.”
In a separate statement issued today, the IOC said that journalists "should be seeing a noticeable difference in accessibility to Web sites." The statement did not provide details as to what sites would remain blocked and why.
While Amnesty International's main Web site was accessible from the Main Press Center, a site the organization set up to promote debate about human rights in China remained blocked, Agence France-Presse reported. The BBC's Chinese-language Web site was sometimes available, but searches for the banned spiritual organization Falun Gong produced blank pages, The Associated Press reported.
Kevan Gosper, IOC press commission chairman, said he understood that sites considered "pornographic or subversive" by the Chinese government would remain blocked but others would be made accessible, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The Beijing organizers have not clarified the nature and status of the Internet restrictions. On Thursday, the IOC said that the local organizing group, known by the acronym BOCOG, would "give details to the media very soon of how the matter has been addressed." Yet no details were available Friday on the organization's Web site. BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide said broadly that “we're keeping our promises ... and we administer the Internet by law,” the AP reported.
A commentary published today by the official Xinhua News Agency, which typically reflects the government viewpoint, called press freedom a “relative concept.” The piece went on to say that “the principal reason for blocking a few sites is that they disseminate topics that violate Chinese law.” More details on Xinhua and other Chinese media coverage are on the CPJ Blog.
In a press conference with foreign reporters today, President Hu Jintao did not address the issue directly but asked that international media respect China's laws, according to the BBC.
The organizers of the Beijing Games were more clear cut when they were involved in the competitive bid process to host the Games. The organizers promised "no restrictions" on reporting in their official bid, which was submitted in 2001. The IOC reiterated China’s promise in its evaluation of competing cities’ bids, saying that “it was confirmed to the Commission that there will be no restrictions on media reporting.”