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IOC Under Fire For Net Censorship During Summer Games

August 4, 2008

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge was accused Saturday of backpedaling on commitments of press freedom as some Web sites remained blocked just days before the beginning of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games. 

At the IOC’s request, organizers in China had unblocked some Web sites at the main press center, but left others censored. 

“Let me be very clear on this,” Rogge said in his first public statement since arriving in the Olympic host city on Thursday.

“We require that different media have the fullest access possible to report on the Olympic Games. And I’m adamant in saying there has been no deal whatsoever to accept restrictions. Our requirements are the same from host city to host city and remain unchanged since the IOC entered into a host city contract with Beijing in 2001.”

Authorities in China, along with high-ranking IOC members, have consistently maintained there would be no Internet censorship for accredited journalists covering the Summer Games, despite the fact that Chinese authorities routinely block certain Web sites used by citizens.

“I’m not going to make an apology for something that the IOC is not responsible for,” said Rogge.

“We are not running the Internet in China. The Chinese authorities are running the Internet.”

“Foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet,” Rogge, who is Belgian, was quoted as saying during an IOC news conference held Saturday.

Giselle Davies, an IOC spokeswoman, indicated that Rogge might not have been entirely accurate in his statement of “no censorship” because he was speaking in English, not his native language.

“There’s been no change in the IOC’s position,” she said.

“Again, I think we are trying to hang on every single word often spoken by people whose mother tongue isn’t English. Let me be clear again: The IOC would like to see open access for the media to be able to do their job.”

China won the right to host the 2008 Summer Games in 2001.  At that time, Wang Wei, vice president of the organizing committee, was commonly quoted as saying, “We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China.”

An Associated Press report over the weekend said that many sites disliked by the Chinese government, such as the spiritual movement Falun Gong, were blocked.  Thousands of blogs are also regularly blocked.

Although certain key words will almost always elicit blank screens, the blocked sites appear to change on a daily basis.  For example, searching on “Tiananmen Square Massacre” produced a Web site, but with all the images blocked.

Kevin Gosper, who leads the IOC’s press commission, admitted that full Internet access might not be possible since the games are being hosted by a “communist society.”

“I guess there will be some debate as we move toward the games if there are sites that may or may not be open,” Gosper told the Associated Press.

“And the line between what could be considered as a national-interest issue might be a bit blurred. But we’ll work on it and we will deal with any potential grievances.”

Complaints of censorship are not limited to access to Internet Web sites.  Indeed, some television officials have complained about red-tape regulations hindering the movement of reporters and cameras, lack of live access to Tiananmen Square and the vital allocation of broadcast frequencies.

“We are continuing to work to have the organizers deliver what has been pledged, what has been outlined,” said Davies.

“And they have also assured us of this.”

Image Caption: Photo taken on July 8, 2008 shows the broadcast room of the China Central Television in the International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Beijing, China. (Photo credit: Xinhua)

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