August 13, 2008

Beijing’s Free-Speech Breaches Extend to TV Channels


China's unwillingness to put on a free and democratic Olympic Games continues to be a concern for media trying to report events in Beijing, with some television channels joining websites as no-go areas.

After promising unrestricted media access to journalists at the Games, China stunned the world by announcing access to some websites would be blocked, and the International Olympic Committee has been powerless to stop the communist government having its own way as websites regarded as "dissident" continue to be off-limits.

And now, it seems, television channels are also being blocked.

In his latest email newsletter, Richard Gladwell, the New Zealand editor of the sail- website said the hotel he was staying at in Qingdao, where sailing events are being held, had apologised for the lack of television access.

Gladwell wrote: "Typical of (restricted access) was a note left on our hotel pillow, from the management which reads 'Kindly be advised that some channels in the guest rooms will be temporarily shut down during the Olympic Games as per the request of the Government'. Unfortunately, we have no control over this request'."

And it seems television channels are not the only things off limits to media in Qingdao, with athletes and officials kept at a distance from those who wish to talk to them.

"The media are very restricted as to where they can operate," Gladwell wrote. "There is a mixed zone in operation, which so far seems to work OK. However, that is about as far as the competitor- media contact is allowed to go. Similarly, with communications with jury and race officials - not permitted. People you are used to talking to on a regular basis, are now off-limits.

"All blogsites seem to be shut off by the locals - a frustrating exercise for those who are trying to update them here - as many of the international sailing media do - only to be unable to read what they have just posted - and rely on friends outside the Chinese sphere of influence to post emailed reports on their behalf.

"If you are very self-sufficient here, then you will be better than someone who is not. For the sailing teams it means they have to be up to a certain level of infrastructure, or you just will not be able to compete."

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