IOC caves to China Internet censorship

By Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service |  Internet, censorship, Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) admitted Wednesday that it made a deal with Chinese officials to accept censorship of the Internet during the Beijing Olympic Games, which begin August 8.

"IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese [so] that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games-related," said Kevin Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, according to press reports. "I regret that it now appears BOCOG [Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad] has announced that there will be limitations on Web site access during Games time," he added.

BOCOG's top spokesperson said Thursday that Web sites that are "banned" would remain so.

"If a few Web sites are difficult to browse, it's mainly because they have spread content that is banned by the Chinese laws," Sun Weide told the state-run Xinhua News Agency . "The Internet is regulated according to law in China, just like in other countries."

He called Internet access in China and during the Olympics "sufficient." "The channel is smooth for foreign journalists in Beijing to report the Games and report China using the Internet," Sun said.

Press freedom groups reacted quickly to the admission.

"Yet another broken promise," said Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) in a statement. "Coming just nine days before the opening ceremony, this is yet another provocation by the Chinese authorities. This situation increases our concern that there will be many cases of censorship during the games. We condemn the IOC's failure to do anything about this, and we are more than sceptical about its ability to 'ensure' that the media are able to report freely."

RSF's Web site is blocked to users in China.

"The Chinese government's controls on the Internet are contrary to the free reporting environment promised by the hosts and contradict International Olympic Commission assurances that the press will be able to operate as at previous games. Thousands of visiting journalists will now get to experience the censorship that reporters and other Internet users in China have to put up with every day," said a statement on the Web site of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, an association of China-based foreign journalists.

China's insistence on Internet censorship violates assurances given to the IOC at various points, most recently in April. "We were satisfied by the assurances we received across a number of areas -- media service levels, including Internet access, brand protection, environmental contingency plans for improved air quality, and the live broadcast feed," said IOC Coordination Commission Chairman Hein Verbruggen [cq] during his final pre-games visit to Beijing in April.

China blocks access to Web sites containing pornography, violence, and anti-government material, including political views opposing the Chinese Communist Party, and those expressing support for independence for Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.

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