China Curbs Visiting Media's Internet Access

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Journalists from around the world are gathering in China for the Beijing Summer Olympics and their access to some Internet sites is being blocked. China had pledged to provide media with unrestricted access to the Internet.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Foreign journalists covering the Beijing Olympics thought they would get uncensored access to the Internet, at least at the main media center. But this week, some sites have been blocked.

As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the Chinese and the International Olympic Committee had promised more openness for the games.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Journalists at the Beijing Olympic Media Center are finding they can't get onto sites from places like, oh, pulling one out of a hat, like Amnesty International.

Sam Zarifi is Amnesty's director of Asia and Pacific issues.

BLOCK: I think the question is why would the Chinese authorities censor the Internet for reporters who are already accustomed to having access to sites like Amnesty International's.

FOLKENFLIK: Zarifi points to one possible reason. Amnesty released a report just yesterday that found the Olympics were not helping the cause of liberty in China.

BLOCK: Unfortunately, we saw that the Chinese government really, I think, in its obsession to present an image of stability and harmony - those are their words - started really cracking down.

FOLKENFLIK: And the crackdown on dissidents, journalists and the lawyers who defend them was accompanied by restrictions this year on reporting on Tibet and on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. The International Olympics Committee awarded the games to China in 2001 saying it would promote openness in a very closed society.

Here's IOC spokesman Kevan Gosper this April on CNN.


BLOCK: Right from the signing of the host city agreement with Beijing, we had absolute agreement that the arrangements for international journalists for free broadcasting and uncensored broadcasting would be exactly the same as any previous games. And that now, of course, includes open and uncensored access to the Internet.

FOLKENFLIK: Until early last year, China required foreign reporters to apply to government officials for all interviews done within the country, which led to reprisals against sources. That was temporarily lifted in anticipation of the games and was taken as a sign of openness.

Minky Worden is an official with Human Rights Watch, and she edited a book called "China's Great Leap" about its push for the Beijing games.

BLOCK: If you can create the ability for a lot more reporting of human rights abuses inside China, then you've opened up an entire vast area of information for Chinese people. And that is extremely important.

FOLKENFLIK: But Worden says that's not happening. Olympics officials now acknowledge they allowed Chinese authorities to limit access to sensitive Web sites. In a statement e-mailed to NPR, an IOC spokeswoman now says officials have always encouraged organizers to provide full access.

Terry McDonell is editor in chief of Sports Illustrated. He says the restrictions on Internet access is a notable blow to press freedom.

BLOCK: The lead of the story is, will this Olympics ultimately turn into a confrontation between the Chinese and the free media?

FOLKENFLIK: And Minky Worden, the editor of the book on the Beijing games, says that's entirely predictable.

BLOCK: These Olympics have become about human rights in China because of the Chinese government's failure to honor its pledges and because of the IOC's failure to hold the Chinese government to its commitments.

FOLKENFLIK: For now, Chinese Olympic organizers are saying only that they'll provide sufficient and convenient Internet access needed to cover the actual Olympic contests themselves.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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