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Beijing 2008: China Lives Down to Everyone’s ‘Media Freedom’ Expectations

beijing-olympggics-2008.jpgWell there have been signs all along that the Chinese may not have the same understanding of “uncensored access” as the rest of the world and now, with less than two weeks to go before the start of the Olympic Games, China seems to be proving up on everyone’s worst fears. The AFP is reporting that the Chinese Government has confirmed journalists covering the Games will have censored access to the Internet. Back in 2001, in an effort to win the Games the Chinese promised the IOC that it would guarantee media freedom during the Games (also that it would improve its human rights record, so maybe that should have been a hint). The Chinese now say they will provide “sufficient access to the Internet for reporters.” “Sufficient” apparently does not include any websites deemed sensitive by the government, i.e., anything to do with Tibet, Amnesty International (which just released a report on China’s human rights violations), or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre are definite no-no’s.

It’s unclear whether or not the IOC had any inkling this was coming — a few weeks ago its president assured reporters “there will be no censorship on the Internet.” However a Hong Kong paper is quoting the head of the IOC’s press commission as saying that he had recently “been advised that some of the IOC officials had negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked…If you have been misled by what I have told you about there being free Internet access during the Games, then I apologise.” Ha! Way to stand up for the spirit of the Games! Alas, it is probably too late in the day to do much about it, a fact one imagines the Chinese government was counting on. (However, for the especially tech-savvy, Beijing-bound writer Wired has some tips on how to subvert the big Chinese brother.) That said, the Chinese are paying their own price for all these pre-Game rules: NPR reported this morning that due to over-the-top visa restrictions tourism in Beijing was down 20%.

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