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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Uneasy relations: China and the foreign press

August 15, 2008

By Tim Sullivan
The Associated Press
August 13, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- Over at the media village, China is battering them
with petty kindnesses.

There's one person to open the door to the cafeteria where breakfast
is served, and two more to sort journalistic recycling from
journalistic trash. There are people to guide the press onto special
buses. There are flower-arranging demonstrations (mostly ignored) at
the main media press center, just off the Olympic Green, and free
afternoon coffee and cookies (well-attended).

Security sweeps are gauntlets of politeness, where the
"good-morning's" and "please's" rain down from teams of smiling
Olympic staffers in matching blue Olympic outfits.

China has a long history of difficult relations with the foreign
media, and has long heavily restricted press access to sensitive
stories. But the past week also makes clear that Beijing wants to
keep those journalists happy while they cover the Olympic games.

Those sensitive stories, though, are still clearly out of bounds.

On Wednesday, a British television journalist was detained by police
as he tried to report on a pro-Tibet protest near the green, where
protesters handcuffed themselves together and hung a "Free Tibet"
banner from a bridge. John Ray of London-based ITV News was grabbed
by police and put into a car. He was released after proving he was a

International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said
the committee was checking into what happened. "The IOC's position is
clear: the media must be free to report on the Olympic Games," she
said in a statement.

While Beijing vowed before the Olympics to give the foreign media
unrestricted access to China during the games, Ray's detention was
just the latest in a string of recent confrontations between Chinese
authorities and international journalists, adding to worries that
Beijing has reverted to the tight controls it normally keeps over the press.

Late last month, Chinese police shoved and kicked a crowd of 30,000
people who had waited in the heat for up to two days hoping to get a
chance to buy Olympic tickets. Hong Kong television showed several
journalists pushing back against police, and Hong Kong Cable TV
showed a policeman putting his arm around the neck of one of their
reporters and pulling him to the ground.

Last week, two Japanese journalists were briefly detained and beaten
by police in western China, triggering a protest by the Japanese
government. Chinese officials later apologized. The journalists were
working in Xinjiang province at the scene of a deadly attack on
Chinese policemen when they were forcibly taken to a border police
facility, said a reporter for Japanese broadcaster Nippon Television
Network Corp.

While China has long been anxious to use the Olympics as a chance to
show its emergence as a global superpower, such reactions also
reflect Beijing's efforts to carefully script the games and how
journalists cover them.

Olympic freebies and flower-arranging amount to nothing substantive,
said Bob Dietz of the New York-based Committee to Protect
Journalists. "The easy stuff ... is easy" he said. "This is China
turning on its hospitality and welcoming people, and it isn't just
journalists getting the red-carpet treatment.

"On the substantive issues, there hasn't been much movement at all,"
he said. "The one human rights pledge that China made was that there
would be a free media for the games -- and that just hasn't materialized."

So coverage of athletes and gold medal face-offs are acceptable. But
stories about pro-Tibet protests -- even on the edge of the main
Olympic venues -- are off-limits.

"I can give you a general principle: That is, the Chinese government
adopts a positive and open attitude and welcomes foreign journalists
coming to China and report on the Beijing Olympics," Qin Gang, a
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a regular briefing
Wednesday. He said Chinese officials were "very concerned" about
reports of what had happened to the Japanese journalists, but added
that: "Local officials have the right to take some measures."

Chinese authorities have been particularly sensitive about Tibet
since bloody anti-government protests in March in the region's
capital and surrounding provinces.

While foreign journalists regularly face troubles reporting in China,
the situation is far worse for Chinese reporters who aggressive cover
sensitive topics ranging from official corruption to human rights.

At least 26 Chinese journalists are in prison in China for their
work, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a
statement earlier this year. According to a February report by the
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, China jails the largest number
of journalists, cyber dissidents, Internet users and activists for
freedom of expression.

Associated Press Writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report.
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