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Beijing Olympics: BBC to show protests

June 15, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing
The Telegraph (UK)
June 13, 2008

The BBC will show political protests if they occur during the Beijing
Olympics, the corporation has said, even if the Games' organisers
attempt to censor official footage.

The BBC, the only British broadcaster with access to stadiums this
summer, says it cannot be expected to hide demonstrations if they
happen at events where they have cameras.

Its decision, which it stresses will be applied "responsibly", will
increase Beijing's nervousness as the Games approach.

The Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, BOCOG, has
already had angry exchanges with the world's leading broadcasters who
complain of delays over permits to bring their equipment into the
country and to deploy them around the city.

Dave Gordon, head of major sports events for the BBC, told The Daily
Telegraph that Beijing had become "more difficult" for broadcasters
than the Moscow Games in 1980.

He said international representatives had tried to get answers for
two years on whether the Olympic broadcasting agency that provides
the only feed of the actual events would show footage of protests if
they occurred.

"They fudge the question," he said. "They won't commit to saying yes,
they will cover it or no, they will not cover it. They put a lot of
stress on the importance of covering the sport. I think we have to
draw our own conclusions."

Mr Gordon said the BBC paid a lot of attention to "responsible"
coverage of protests and whether 24-hour rolling news meant coverage
of individual protests might become disproportionate.

But he added it was unthinkable that if its own cameras in the
stadium picked up a protest it would not be shown. "We have to cover
the Olympics warts and all," he said.

Beijing promised that journalists would be given free rein to report
on the Olympics when it was awarded the Games in 2001 - a key demand
made of any host city. Last year, in order to comply, the Chinese
government suspended normal restrictions on foreign correspondents.

But Beijing has shown increased signs of nervousness at the extent of
the foreign presence during the Games and the potential for
anti-government disturbances, particularly in the wake of protests in
Tibet in March.

It has issued detailed rules for foreigners intending to come to the
city, including banning "unauthorised protests", and tightened visa
requirements and enforcement.

The Communist Party directly controls BOCOG, which is staffed by
officials from the sports ministry and the city government and headed
by a member of the politburo.

It has a half share, along with the International Olympic Committee,
in the official Games broadcaster, Beijing Olympic Broadcasting,
which provides the principal footage from inside the stadiums
including all the actual sporting events.

The difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits to operate for
other broadcasters came to a head at a meeting in Beijing on May 29.

According to minutes leaked to the Associated Press, even the
representative of the International Olympic Committee described
Beijing's demands as "unworkable".

Another delegate, representing Asian broadcasters, said Beijing was
"suffocating the television coverage in the crazy pursuit of security".

The BBC was represented by the European Broadcasting Union, but Mr
Gordon confirmed the account. He said it was the culmination of two
years of "frustration" at dealing with BOCOG.

"BOCOG's attitude seems to be 'delay, delay, delay', and not say yes
and not say no," he said.

Many broadcasters want to film live from well-known but politically
sensitive locations such as Tiananmen Square. They have been told
this will be allowed in principle, but complain that permission seems
not to be forthcoming.

"The broadcasters are collaborating more closely on these Games than
they have at other Games because they are all facing the same
problems," Mr Gordon said.

"I have worked on the Olympics for 30 years now. Moscow was the first
one I went to, and this is the most difficult I have been to. China
is presenting more challenges than any we have had to experience before."

Jeff Ruffolo, a public relations adviser to BOCOG, said the host
broadcaster's job was to film sport and associated events, such as
supporters in the crowds. But individual protests in the crowd had
little to do with sport, he said.

"I doubt seriously that they would show it," he said. He said the
same was true of previous Games.

But he added that if other broadcasters with cameras in venues filmed
protests there was nothing Beijing could do. "If a television camera
takes a picture of a guy holding up a sign and no-one else has a
picture, they are going to use it," he said.

"There's not going to be any pre-censorship."
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