Olympic Web of Deceit and Complicity July 30, 2008Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News.
Tags: censorship, China, IOC, Olympics
Just days to the Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities are showing a paranoia that could end up scoring an own goal. One shouldn’t be surprised that the first winners are Web censorship and a betrayal. But one should be outraged that the International Olympic Committee was in cahoots.
Which begs the question – who’s in charge here? Sure, the IOC would want to give the impression it was consulted on matters Olympian. But was it really in the know that the Beijing organizers would go back on their word?
In bidding for the games, Chinese officials promised media would have complete freedom. Today they reneged, saying authorities would only guarantee “sufficient” Internet access for accredited media.
An IOC spokesman says it knew China would break its promise to allow unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Beijing Games. Press commission chairman Kevan Gosper said IOC officials “had negotiated with China that some sensitive Web sites would be blocked” at Olympic venues because they were unrelated to the games.
Oops, what’s happening here? Just two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge cited free internet access as an achievement of his “silent diplomacy” with Chinese officials. In an interview with AFP, he insisted, “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.”
What a total humiliation of the IOC, and a mockery of the core values of the Games. Which reminds me of the gloat – I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. This state of affairs would be unthinkable in Olympics in Athens, but times have changed. A booming economy and money to be made can distract and persuade one to kowtow on Web access.
Some 20,000 foreign journalists are affected by China’s backflip. They cannot access Web sites for the human rights group Amnesty International, the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Also inaccessible are the websites for foreign media, such as the BBC’s Chinese-language service, the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily and the Taiwan-based Liberty Time.
The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve information, particularly on political and human rights stories the government dislikes. Journalists trying to use the Web complained about slow speeds and suspect a ploy to discourage use.
This games is a chance for Beijing to communicate with the world about its vision of the future, as envisioned in this leaked clip of the opening ceremony. The whole world is watching. Surely these guys know by now that everything has a way of finding its way to the Web?
This is the latest in a list of issues to have tarnished the run-up to the Olympics, which start on August 8, following controversies over pollution, human rights and terrorism threat. The Olympics have always been political, but probably none have been as wrapped up with national pride and global prestige as Beijing’s.
For a culture so hung up on image, the images that would speak of a First World China will not be the monuments or the medals that show athletes with yellow skin can run as fast as those with black and white skin. The image will be that caught and seen around the Web of a China in the glare of global media.
The ruling Communist party has stressed the need to use the Internet to “correctly guide” public opinion. Just two weeks ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao described the Web as “the battlefield forward position for the propagation of advanced socialist culture.”
It’s unclear whether the IOC might challenge Beijing’s interpretation of “sufficient” Internet access. The IOC maintains the Olympics are a sports event, and it should not intervene in politics. The Swiss-based body has been faulted for failing to hold China to promises made to win the bid.
Update August 1 2008:
IOC President Jacques Rogge said there had been “no deal to accept restrictions” on access. At a news conference in Beijing, Rogge said the IOC required journalists “to have the fullest possible access to report on the Olympic Games”. Asked if the IOC had been naive on the Internet issue, Rogge said: “I would say we are idealists. Idealism is linked with some naivety.”
Depends where you’re coming from Jacques. Naivete has no place in journalism. Skepticism rules. That’s why Reporters Without Borders advises journalists working in China to lock computer files and find safe translators. They should conduct phone calls and write e-mails knowing that they may be monitored.
IOC denies deal on internet curbs