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China to Limit Web Access During Olympic Games
source: New York Times


by Teh Eng Koon/Agence France-Presse Getty Images Foreign journalists at the main press center on the Olympic Green in Beijing on Wednesday.
source: New York Times



BEIJING -- The International Olympic Committee failed to press China to allow fully unfettered access to the Internet for the thousands of journalists arriving here to cover the Olympics, despite promising repeatedly that the foreign news media could "report freely" during the Games, Olympic officials acknowledged Wednesday.

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages -- among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown on the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC's Chinese-language news, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse.

The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, that China had agreed to provide full Web access for foreign news media during the Games. Mr. Rogge has long argued that one of the main benefits of awarding the Games to Beijing was that the event would make China more open.

"For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet," Mr. Rogge told Agence France-Presse just two weeks ago.

But a high-ranking Olympic committee official said Wednesday that the panel was aware that China would continue to censor Web sites carrying content that the Chinese propaganda authorities deemed harmful to national security and social stability. The panel acquiesced to China's demands to maintain such controls, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not the designated public spokesman for the International Olympic Committee.

It was not immediately clear if China had provided special Internet links for overseas journalists working at the press center in the Olympic Village. But Chinese officials, speaking about the Internet restrictions on Wednesday, said they would not allow foreign journalists to visit Web sites that violated Chinese laws.

In its negotiations with the Chinese over Internet controls, the Olympic committee official said, the panel insisted only that China provide unregulated access to sites containing information useful to sports reporters covering athletic competitions, not to a broader array of sites that the Chinese and the Olympic committee negotiators determined had little relevance to sports.

The official said he now believed that the Chinese defined their national security needs more broadly than the Olympic committee had anticipated, denying reporters access to some information they might need to cover the events and the host country fully. This week, foreign news media in China were unable to gain direct access to an Amnesty International report detailing what it called a deterioration in China's human rights record in the prelude to the Games.

"We are quite stunned by the decision, but we will survive this mess," the official said. Sandrine Tonge, the media relations coordinator for the committee, said it would press the Chinese authorities to reconsider.

Chinese officials initially suggested that any troubles journalists were having with Internet access probably stemmed from the sites themselves, not any steps that China had taken to filter Web content. But Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, acknowledged Wednesday that journalists would not have uncensored Internet use.

"It has been our policy to provide the media with convenient and sufficient access to the Internet," Mr. Sun said. "I believe our policy will not affect reporters' coverage of the Olympic Games."

Mr. Sun said foreigners using the Internet in China would be subject to the same laws under which censors blocked access to a wide range of Web sites thought to be detrimental to stability. China has long maintained that its laws governing Internet access do not amount to censorship and are similar to restrictions on pornography or gambling sites in many countries.

The restrictions were the latest in a string of problems that have tarnished the prelude to the Olympics, which open Aug. 8. China struggled to contain ethnic unrest in Tibetan areas this spring. The global torch relay that China organized to promote the Games was disrupted by protests. Air pollution in Beijing has remained severe despite efforts to reduce it.

In recent months, human rights advocates have accused Beijing of stepping up the detention and surveillance of those it fears could disrupt the Games. On Tuesday, President Bush met with five Chinese dissidents at the White House to drive home his dissatisfaction with the pace of change. Mr. Bush, who will attend the opening ceremonies in just over a week, also pressed China's foreign minister to ease political repression.

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