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Reporters without borders make pirate broadcast in Beijing

August 10, 2008

By Jane MAcartney in Beijing
Times Online (UK)
August 8, 2008

The world's best-known advocate of freedom of the media took its
message to the heart of Beijing this morning, making a pirate
broadcast on Chinese radio exactly 12 hours to the minute before the
start of the Olympics opening ceremony.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders began broadcasting on local FM
radio to several districts of Beijing at 8.08 a.m local time (0000
GMT), denouncing China's grip on media and expression. The broadcast,
in both English and Mandarin Chinese, while often indistinct, lasted
for 20 minutes.

In the latest embarrassing breach of China's massive security
operation, the group used the FM 104.4 frequency to demand the
release of political prisoners and the lifting of censorship. A voice
at the start of the broadcast said: "China is the country of
censorship, and this programme is our way of making fun of the
Chinese authorities who still keep hundreds of journalists and
Internet users in prison."

Vincent Brossel, a Paris-based spokesman for the group, said they
timed the audacious on-air challenge to coincide with the final
build-up to the Beijing Games opening on Friday evening. "It's 12
hours before the opening of the Olympics - a time when we want these
voices heard." Members of RSF disrupted the Olympic torch lighting
ceremony in Greece earlier this year, setting the stage for
demonstrations throughout the relay.

The broadcast said: "It's our way of saying to them: Despite
everything you do, here are the voices of people you want to silence
and they are speaking in the heart of Beijing on the very first day
of the Olympics.

"It's our way of saying: Whatever measures you take you will never be
able to abolish the right to free speech."

The press freedom organisation said it was the first time since the
Communist Party came to power in 1949 that a non-state radio station
had broadcast in China. International Chinese-language radio station
broadcasting on short wave could be heard in China but are jammed by
the authorities.

Robert Menard, secretary general of the group, said the broadcast was
a gesture of defiance to the Chinese authorities who hare keeping
dozens of journalists and Internet users in prison. He said in the
broadcast: "Despite everything, there are people who are going to be
able to speak out about things you don't want the public to hear, in
the very heart of Beijing. Regardless of the measures you take, you
will not get rid of free speech."

He called for the release of prisoners of conscience and told China
that its censorship would not work.

The Broadcast included interviews with Chinese human rights activists
now living overseas. Yang Jianli, a former political prisoner,
described prison conditions. "External pressure is essential to
improve the situation of political prisoners."

The numbers of those in jail for defying China's censors is difficult
to know, but Reporters Without Borders has estimated that roughly 100
journalists, Internet users and "cyberdissidents" are serving jail
sentences for expressing their views.

Media openness has stirred controversy even before the start of the
Games when it emerged that China's cyber police had no intention of
providing journalists with the free and unfettered access to the
Internet that had been promised for the duration of the Olympics.

Some sites have been opened, notably that of Reporters Without
Borders and Amnesty International as well as some Chinese-language
newspapers based in Taiwan and Hong Kong whose stance irks the
Chinese leadership. However, many more remain inaccessible behind the
Great Firewall of China. Most sites that mention Tibet and the Falun
Gong religious sect remain blocked -- as do many blog hosting sites
such as Typepad, which is used by The Times bloggers.

China introduced new rules from January 1 last year allowing foreign
journalists to report more freely across most of China in the run-up
to the Olympics, but these will expire when the games end.

Chinese journalists are careful to censor what they write to avoid
angering the authorities. The outspoken Southern Weekend newspaper
ran a long article on the issue of the suspected shoddy construction
of the many schools that crumbled in the devastating earthquake in
Sichuan in May. Beijing censors were furious and have penalized the
newspaper, reducing by four on occasion the number of pages it is allowed.
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