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Censors make news in public relations battle

August 18, 2008

Jacquelin Magnay in Beijing
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
August 14, 2008

CHINA may be losing the public relations battle to control the
international media at the Beijing Games, but within its borders the
extensive controls on the local media have been exposed starkly.

A stunningly frank 21-point plan from the propaganda bureau was
issued to editors and journalists and orders them to ignore hot
international topics and any issues that may reflect negatively on
the Olympic Games.

Banned are Tibet, Falun Gong, food safety issues, the three official
protest parks and emergencies inside Olympic venues.

The blacklist comes as Chinese security forces assaulted and detained
a British journalist yesterday as he was filming a pro-Tibetan rally
several hundred metres from the Bird's Nest stadium.

Independent Television News China correspondent John Ray was dragged
along the ground, his hands stamped on and his shoes removed before
being detained for a short period after witnessing a pro-Tibetan
rally at the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park by Students for a Free
Tibet. Six of the students were arrested as they waved Free Tibet banners.

But news of the protest has been blacked out from the mainland
Chinese press, as has news of the faked opening ceremony song, the
Olympic connections of the murdered American tourist and the actress
paralysed in rehearsals for the opening ceremony.

The mainland Chinese journalists have been instructed to use the
official Xinhua news agency for stories about diplomatic ties between
China and other nations, including Australia.

"Over the diplomatic ties between China and some certain nations,
don't do interviews on your own and don't use online stories," the
instructions state.

"Instead, adopt Xinhua stories only. Particularly on the Doha round
negotiation, US elections, China-Iran co-operation, China-Aussie
co-operation, China-Zimbabwe co-operation, China-Paraguay co-operation."

The journalists have been told that in the event of an emergency
involving foreign tourists they must follow the official line.

But "if there's no official line, stay away from it. Over possible
subway accidents in the capital, please follow the official line. Be
positive on security measures. There's also no need to make a fuss
about our anti-terror efforts," the report says.

The eighth point states: "All food safety issues, such as
cancer-causing mineral water, is off the limits."

The 21-point plan was reported in the South China Morning Post, but
its existence was denied by the Games organisers.

"There is no such 21-point document," the Beijing Olympic Committee
vice president, Wang Wei, said yesterday.

"Chinese media, according to the Chinese constitution, are free to
report on the Games."

But yesterday all news reports of the faked opening ceremony song
involving the little girl in a red dress were blacked out within
China yesterday as Olympic officials staunchly defended the
duplicitous act as an artistic decision.

"I didn't see anything wrong with it," Mr Wang said.

"This was a decision of the directors to achieve the most theatrical effect."

But the IOC's executive director of games, Gilbert Felli, said: "I
think it is clear that the right information has to be given to the people."

Olympic officials had previously said an actress suffered only a
broken leg during a heavy fall from a high stage during the Silk Road
segment, denying reporters' questions that she was paralysed.
However, the Yangtze Evening News yesterday posted details and
photographs of Beijing Dance Academy dancer Liu Yan, saying she has
lost all feeling in her legs after falling from a flying blanket to a
moving platform at rehearsals on July 27.

The paper quotes opening ceremony director Zhang Zimou saying:
"You're the deepest pain in my heart, if I could see you stand on
your feet again, it would make me much more excited and happier than
any praise I've received."

The IOC and China's ministry of industry and information technology,
which is in charge of the internet in China, have both declined to
comment on the press restrictions.
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