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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The great communications wall

August 12, 2008

Lisa Martin
The Age (Australia)
August 11, 2008 - 12:00AM

Lisa Martin looks at China, security and the internet.

1. What is the status of press freedom in China?

China is not a democracy and does not have a free media. Chinese
journalists must publish and broadcast stories in line with
Government propaganda. The country is ranked 181st out of 195 on a
press freedom index by Freedom House. During its 2001 bid to host the
Olympic Games, China promised the International Olympic Committee to
give the foreign media "complete freedom to report".

In the years leading up to the Games, the Communist Party began to
relax its strict censorship policies. Last year it temporarily
removed travel restrictions on foreign journalists

so they no longer had to seek government permission to cover stories.
And in 2006, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao guaranteed press
freedom. "Foreign journalists will not limit their activities to the
Games themselves," he said. "They will also cover politics, science,
technology and the economy."

Earlier this year, riots during the Olympic torch relay by pro-Tibet
independence protesters deeply embarrassed China and dented national
pride. As a result press freedom became a sensitive issue for the
Government. In recent weeks there has been speculation that the
International Olympic Committee had agreed to some censorship of
journalists' internet access.

At one stage journalists could not log on to more than 150 sites -
among them the BBC, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, The New York
Times, Arabic station al-Jazeera, CNN, The Age, Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International and press freedom group Reporters Without
Borders, as well as websites to do with the Falun Gong spiritual
movement. After an international media backlash, Beijing was forced
to back down.

But the Government is also facing criticism for using spyware to
monitor the internet use of foreign guests staying at hotels.
Internet access across China is heavily protected by an army of about
30,000 cyber police.

2. What concerns are there about press freedom during the Games?

About 20,000 journalists are in Beijing to cover the Olympic Games.
Many media organisations are frustrated by what they see as China's
political paranoia and some fear for their reporters' safety. Under
Chinese law, the Government can detain a foreign national for 72
hours before it is required to inform the detainee's embassy.

Since January 1, 2007, the Foreign Correspondent Club of China has
logged more than 270 cases of reporting interference - "violence,
destruction of journalistic materials, detention, harassment of
sources and staff, interception of communications, denial of access
to public areas, being questioned in an intimidating manner by
authorities, being reprimanded officially, being followed, and being
subjected to other obstacles not in keeping with international practices".

3. Does press freedom matter during a sporting event?

Critics argue that China's censorship practices go against the
Olympic spirit, which promotes peace and international co-operation.
Some say that China should not have been awarded the Olympic Games
because of its censorship and human rights record.

The controversy surrounding the Beijing Games has been likened to the
1980 Moscow Games, which was boycotted by 64 countries in protest of
the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

But Chinese officials say sporting triumphs should not be
overshadowed and that China has every right to protect its national
security by monitoring internet use.

4. Recent headlines

"Internet row offers lessons on doing business in China"

The Australian, August 4

"In China, freedom's just another word for nothing left to choose"

The Age, August 1

"Outrage over internet Great Wall of China"

Canberra Times, July 31

"Chinese officials break promise to world media"

Herald Sun, July 30

5. What The Age says

"President Hu Jintao, tear down this firewall ... The tightening of
the noose has taken on a distinctly Orwellian 1984 aspect with the
disclosure that China has set in train a plan to spy on the website
usage of hotel guests in Beijing. Authorities have ordered hotels,
under the threat of severe fines, to install spyware on guests' web
communications. This is completely unacceptable ... China argues that
it needs to filter internet access because of national security
concerns. It is right to think that information is power. It is wrong
to think that trying to black out coverage of an issue, be it Tibet,
Falun Gong, dissidents or human rights will make the problem go away
... The Australian economy has benefited enormously from China's
appetite for our raw materials. But the Prime Minister also has an
obligation to speak up when circumstances demand it.

He has that opportunity. He should take it."

Editorial, The Age, August 1

6. What people say

"It's only inevitable that people from different countries and
regions of the world don't see eye to eye on certain issues. I don't
think politicising the Olympic Games will do any good to address
these issues. It runs counter to the Olympic spirit and also to the
shared aspirations of the people of the world. As always we will
continue to provide facilities for foreign journalists coming to
China to report. Of course, we also hope the foreign reporters will
abide by Chinese laws and regulations. We also hope you will provide
objective reports of what you see here. By hosting the Beijing Games
we will show the world that the Chinese people are a peace-loving
nation. For a long time China has pursued a military policy that is
defensive in nature. It will never seek hegemonism ... China's
development will in no way affect or threaten the interests of others."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, The Age, August 1

"My attitude to our friends in China is very simple: they should have
nothing to fear by open digital links with the rest of the world
during this important international celebration of sport."

Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, ABC, August 1

"This is a complete broken promise on behalf of both the Olympic
organisers, the Chinese Government and the International Olympic
Committee. Amnesty International is very concerned that our own
report and our own website are not available to journalists in
Beijing. However, we are even more concerned that the internet is
restricted for Chinese net users, that they can't access information
about democracy, about human rights about environmental issues,
public health issues like HIV and AIDS."

Amnesty International, Sophie Peer, ABC, July 30

7. Your View

Is press freedom important? Does internet censorship on political
issues matter to sports reporters? Should media attention solely
focus on sport? Should China face any sanctions for trying to break
its press freedom guarantee?

Submit your view online at by 10am on the
Thursday before publication

8. Links

Official Beijing Olympic Site:

Federation of Journalists:

Foreign Correspondents Club of China:

Amnesty International:

Press Freedom Rankings:


Although I disagree with the Premier's plan for the pipeline, I do
believe protesters went too far entering John Brumby's farm. They
were already getting a lot of publicity just by protesting and they
didn't need to give themselves a bad reputation by invading the
Premier's privacy. I'm sure that Mr Brumby realised they were angry,
but it's unfair to punish his family for something they have no control over.

Courtney, Viewbank College, year 8

John Brumby chose to make his life public when he became Premier but
it doesn't give people the right to trespass on his property.

Matthew, Ararat College, year 10

When you become a politician you should take into consideration that
you may lose your privacy rights due to protesting and people in
general disagreeing with your actions.

Patrick, Rowville Secondary College, Eastern Campus, year 8

The pipeline protesters didn't go too far because they did nothing
wrong. You see the Greenpeace people boarding boats, so they
definitely did not go too far. I don't think there is any other way
of getting politicians to listen, they only want what's best for themselves.

Matt, Wanganui Park Secondary College, year 9

I think the protesters have a right to rally but not on someone's
private property, where you affect the person's family. I think John
Brumby should listen to the protesters and not take as much of their
water away.

Chelsea, Sale College
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