Great Firewall of China casts shadow on Olympics coverage

31 Jul 2008

Despite a recent promise from Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), that there would be no internet censorship for foreign media covering the events of the Beijing Olympics, the official line from the IOC is that “some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games-related.”

What this means is that the 20,000-plus foreign media beginning to pour into the city in time for the opening ceremony on 8 August will be blocked from certain sites, including that of human rights organisation Amnesty International, an organisation that highlights human rights violations in China.

It also seems that sites where Tibet is discussed or those referring to the Falun Gong spiritual movement are blocked but Beijing Olympics spokesman, Sun Weide, refused to specify exactly what websites or pages are being blocked.

“This blatant media censorship adds one more broken promise that undermines the claim that the Games would help improve human rights in China,” said Mark Allison, East Asia researcher for Amnesty International.

Furthermore, Allison said the IOC should fulfil its commitment to the full, uncensored internet access that was promised on 17 July but Olympic spokesman Weide told the BBC this would not affect coverage of the Games: “During the Olympic Games we will provide reporters with sufficient and convenient internet access so the Olympic Games will not be affected.”

This controlled internet access for foreign media is an extension of China’s well-documented internet censorship policies, whereby access is controlled by state-owned internet service providers (ISPs).

State control of the internet is also underpinned by legislation implemented in 2000 which says that websites based in China can neither link to other sites in outside countries nor contain news as reported by overseas media, unless the state deems the content acceptable.

Recent reports from web users inside the People’s Republic of China suggest that certain US social networking sites, including Facebook and YouTube, were being partially blocked in some areas, while others cited technical problems as the reason behind the lack of access.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: The official press centre at the Beijing Olympics