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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Internet sites still blocked for Olympic reporters

July 31, 2008

Stephen Wade
The Associated Press
July 29, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- Olympic organizers are backtracking on another
promise about coverage of the Beijing Games, keeping in place blocks
on Internet sites in the Main Press Center and venues where reporters
will work.

The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve
information, particularly on political and human rights stories the
government dislikes. On Tuesday, sites such as Amnesty International
or any search for a site with Tibet in the address could not be
opened at the Main Press Center, which will house about 5,000 print
journalists when the games open Aug. 8.

"This type of censorship would have been unthinkable in Athens, but
China seems to have more formalities," said Mihai Mironica, a
journalist with ProTV in Romania. "If journalists cannot fully access
the Internet here, it will definitely be a problem."

The censored Internet is the latest broken promise on press freedoms.
In bidding for the games seven years ago, Chinese officials said the
media would have "complete freedom to report." And in April, Hein
Verbruggen and Kevan Gosper — senior IOC members overseeing the games
— said they'd received assurances from Chinese officials that
Internet censorship would be lifted for journalists during the games.

China routinely blocks Internet access to its own citizens.

Gosper, however, issued a clarification Tuesday. He said the open
Internet extended only to sites that related to "Olympic competitions."

"My preoccupation and responsibility is to ensure that the games
competitions are reported openly to the world," Gosper said.

"The regulatory changes we negotiated with BOCOG and which required
Chinese legislative changes were to do with reporting on the games,"
Gosper added, using the acronym for the Olympic organizers. "This
didn't necessarily extend to free access and reporting on everything
that relates to China."

Journalists trying to use the Internet on Tuesday expressed
frustration, and some also complained about slow speeds. Several said
it might be an intentional ploy to discourage use.

IOC officials have said the Internet would be operational by "games
time," which began Sunday when the Olympic Village opened.

In a related event, Amnesty International released a report Tuesday
accusing China of failing to improve its human rights record ahead of
the Olympics.

The group said that in the last year, thousands of petitioners,
reformists and others were arrested as part of a government campaign
to "clean up" Beijing before the Olympics. It said many have been
sentenced to manual labor without trial.

Beijing organizers have been backtracking on the freedom to report.

Rights holders such as NBC, which has paid about $900 million to
broadcast the games, and non-rights holders have faced roadblocks,
red tape and changing rules as they prepare to cover unexpected
events away from the venues.

Broadcasters have complained about having permits rescinded, being
forced to give notice a month ahead of time about the location of
satellite trucks, and facing harassment from bureaucrats and police
about renting office space or getting parking permits for their vehicles.

Earlier this month, broadcasters tried again to get Olympic
organizers to lift restrictions on live broadcasts from Tiananmen
Square. Alex Gilady, a senior IOC member and a senior vice president
of NBC Sports, has pushed for more live time from the iconic venue —
China is offering six hours daily, and no interviews. Others are
pressing to lift the ban on live interviews.

"Don't push the issue," responded organizing committee executive vice
president Wang Wei, according to an official who attended the
meeting. It was Wang who led Beijing's 2001 bid, and who said after
winning: "We will give the media complete freedom to report when they
come to China."

NBC is promising to air 3,600 hours of coverage, and its owner,
General Electric, is one of 12 top sponsors of the IOC. Some top
sponsors have reportedly paid as much as $200 million.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dick Ebersol, chairman of
NBC Universal Sports, said he would like to see more "openness" from
Chinese officials. But he seemed to play down the news value of the
Olympics. He said NBC was ready to cover stories as they come up, but
"we're not going to cavalierly ... blow out sporting events to show news."

Olympic historian David Wallechinsky has criticized the IOC for
giving the games to China. He's visited the country more than a
half-dozen times in 30 years, and said the IOC and its sponsors were
distracted by China's booming economy.

"There is so much money being made that the IOC has just turned a
blind eye," Wallechinsky said. "The IOC wanted to believe it was all
going to go well, and they weren't there when they should have been.
You know, the Communist Party wants to control everything."

The IOC has maintained the Olympics are a sports event, and it should
not intervene in politics. However, others have faulted the
Swiss-based body for failing to hold China to promises made seven
years ago when it won the bid.

"It is truly sad to see the IOC fail in this regard," said Vincent
Brossell, a a spokesman for Paris-based press rights group Reporters
Without Borders.

Rioting in Tibet four months ago, which sparked protests on
international legs of the torch relay, was followed by the
mobilization of an army of security personnel in Beijing — 110,000
police, riot squads and special forces, augmented by more than
300,000 Olympic volunteers and neighborhood watch members.

Cuban reporter Joel Garcia Leon, with the magazine Trabajadores, said
he expected the censorship. But he was overwhelmed by other red tape.

"I'm surprised how tightly controlled and complicated everything is
here," he said. "To get a phone number from China Mobile, I have to
give them a copy of my passport and my mother's maiden name. This
seems quite excessive and abnormal."

Associated Press Writers Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing and David Bauder in
New York contributed to this report.
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