With just two days until the torch hits the cauldron in Beijing and
the Games begin, the world's eyes are locked on China, watching half
in wondrous anticipation of the Olympics and half in pure,
unadulterated amazement that the world has actually entrusted China with
Back in 2001, Wang Wei, the head of Beijing's 2008 Olympic bid
campaign famously told the International Olympic Committee "We will
give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China."
The motto of the Beijing bid delegation was "New Beijing, Great
Olympics," promising a slow but steady improvement of human rights in
China and hinting at democratization. The IOC, a body who
historically awards the Games to cities that are not only ready, but
cities that also need to develop, practically salivated at the idea of
a Beijing Olympics and all that it would represent. As ESPN's Jim
Caple wrote in an editorial Tuesday:
The four other finalists for the 2008 Olympics were Paris; Toronto;
Osaka, Japan; and Istanbul, Turkey; each is a fine, attractive city,
and all are most certainly less controversial than Beijing. We would
not see "Free Saskatchewan" protests leading up to Toronto. But that's
precisely the point: Whether it was the IOC's intention or not, due to
all the surrounding sagas, Beijing has made the Olympics interesting
And this couldn't be more true. Beijing has certainly made the Games
"interesting." But as the Games draw near, what has been most
"interesting" is not China's coming-out party, but how China has reneged on all of its promises for the Summer Games, pulling off a
swindle of Olympic proportions.
In just the last week, we have witnessed the sad reality
of reporters in the official Beijing Olympics Main Press Center
going online to do research for their stories only to discover that numerous
sites they relied on had been blocked.
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that its own Olympics blog had
been blocked by the Chinese government and that hundreds of other
sites would be censored, not in the hotels or in Olympic housing, but
in the press tents. As of Wednesday, MSN's Taiwan site, the
Philadelphia Inquirer, the Huffington Post, and numerous Falun
Gong and Free Tibet sites remain blocked not only for the Chinese
people, but for the Olympic press as well.
If you cling naively to any hope that the IOC will swoop in like Superman and demand the
Chinese keep their pre-Olympic promises, don't hold your breath. The
IOC, we learned this week, struck a deal with the Chinese government
to allow sensitive non-Olympic-related websites to be blocked during
the Games. IOC press chief Kevan Gosper told the press, "I
regret that it now appears BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee) has announced that there will be
limitations on Web site access during Games time. I also now
understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that
some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not
considered Games related." Rather than stand up to
China on press freedom during the Olympics, our international Olympic
body shamefully cowered and became complicit with the censors.
But that wasn't even the worst incident in the world of
press freedom this week.
On Monday, two Japanese reporters covering a grenade attack that killed 16 people at a
border patrol station in western China's Xinjiang province were beaten
by local Chinese police. One told his network in
Japan, "My face was pushed into the ground, my arm was twisted and I
was hit two or three times in the face." While
the Chinese government apologized Tuesday, the
event shows that Chinese officials, on both local and national
levels, have been trained to react violently, particularly when it comes to
what they consider dangerous press freedom. Perhaps the Japanese reporters should have
known better than to cover a terrorist attack in the Olympic
host country four days before the Olympics.
China makes no mistake about it. They're not going to let a little
thing like the Olympics change their ways. The news story
receiving the least attention this week that deserved the most was from
China's state news service Xinhua titled "Press freedom shall not go
above laws." Xinhua, which is merely a mouthpiece for the
government, justifies all crackdowns on subversive websites (like the
Philadelphia Inquirer) on the basis that Chinese law outranks
freedom of the press. Here is a piece from the story:
Journalistic freedom, at any time, is a relative but not absolute
conception. Even for the media in the United States, contempt of court
and violation of citizen's privacy are banned by laws....
The openness to media complies with both international conventions and
the Chinese laws. Just like other countries, China regulates the
Internet according to law.
The Chinese laws forbid anyone to spread illegal information, such as
preaching an evil cult like the Falungong, or do anything that harms
national interests through the Internet.
It appears China is actually for an unfettered freedom of the press, as long as that freedom doesn't conflict with Chinese law, which expressly limits the freedom of the press.
We have all been duped. The IOC, NBC, reporters working in China,
those who love the Olympics, all of us. The Chinese government made
essential and unequivocal promises they had no intention of keeping in order to win the right to put on
the show that starts Friday. By not demanding a free press during the
Games, the rest of the world has conspired with China, allowing it to conduct business as
usual, shutting off anything and everything thought to "harm national interests." We have
given China the immense power to censor, not just for its own people, but
now for ours.
And two weeks from now, after the Games have ended, China will be more
powerful than it's ever been.