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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Beijing lays down the law for army of global media

July 28, 2008

Thousands of journalists are facing their own Olympics hurdle race,
reports James Doran
James Doran
The Observer (UK)
July 27, 2008

America's biggest media organisations are engaged in a massive
expedition to Beijing to provide round-the-clock coverage of the
Summer Olympics, and they promise a truly Olympian affair.

Thousands of journalists, producers, presenters, runners, technicians
and gofers are being shipped out from the US to giant media
cities-within-cities to bring the folks back home a view of the games
the likes of which they have never seen.

But China has strict rules governing journalists' movements and the
topics about which they report, so if any member of this media legion
decides to stray too far outside of the realms of simple sports
coverage, they may get more - or rather less - than they bargained for.

NBC Universal, owner of the NBC TV Network, is America's official
Olympics broadcaster and is sending the biggest contingent to the
games. It paid $894m (£449m) for the exclusive rights to broadcast
3,600 hours of coverage.

The deal with the International Olympic Committee was part of a
record-breaking $2.3bn package to give NBC the exclusive US media
rights to the 2004 Summer Olympics ($793m), the 2006 Winter Games
($613m) and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The network has
since paid a further $2bn for the exclusive US media rights to cover
the 2010 Winter Games ($820m) and the 2012 Olympics in London ($1.18bn).

NBC promises to broadcast around the clock, using TV, internet and
mobile phone technology to give viewers 'three-screen' access to the
games for the first time. Of the 3,600 hours of coverage, more than
2,900 will be live - more than all the live US coverage of all prior
televised Summer Olympics.

With two weeks to go until the games begin, NBC has already sold
about $900m of its $1bn advertising target, while its parent GE has
spent many millions more as one of the top-tier official sponsors.

NBC - as official US broadcaster - has had a relatively hassle-free
time in China but a common series of complaints is emerging among
those who work for non-rights-owning organisations.

Vital equipment is being delayed at customs. Access to politically
sensitive venues like Tiananmen Square is being restricted, despite
assurances from the government that such obstructions would be lifted
for the Olympics. Even something as simple as parking a satellite
broadcast truck on the street is proving almost impossible for many
outlets, while in the smaller cities officials have been actively
hostile to journalists.

China has tried to give the impression that it has relaxed many of
its despotic media restrictions for the Olympics. It was with great
fanfare that a new set of rules for foreign journalists was
established more than 18 months ago. The rules sought to lift the
requirement for journalists to apply to officialdom when they wanted
to travel or set up an interview. Even though the harsh rules were
rarely enforced, lifting them was seen as a leap forward.

But little has changed, according to Anthony Kuhn, a veteran reporter
on China for America's National Public Radio. 'I was arrested while
reporting a story just weeks after the rules were changed,' he said
from his Beijing office. 'I was reporting on farmland being taken
away by government in Shanxi province and all of a sudden I was
detained and told I was trespassing in a military zone, which was not
the case.'

Kuhn has been arrested on similarly trumped-up charges six or seven
times since the rules were supposedly relaxed in December 2007. 'The
Chinese government makes all the right noises and promises to
modernise things for foreign media but in practice the new rules are
almost unenforceable when you get out in the provinces,' he says.

CNN, which boasts one of the longest-standing Western media presences
in Beijing, has tried to sidestep many of the problems its
competitors face by teaming up with BMC, an arm of the official
Beijing TV company. But still, the network has hit serious impediments.

'We faced daunting political and logistic hurdles preparing for the
coverage of the Beijing Olympics,' says Jaime FlorCruz, CNN's Beijing
bureau chief. 'We still face frequent push-backs. Some of our
requests for interviews and shoots are turned down. Logistics have
been difficult too, but after some hiccups they seem to have fallen
into place.'

China promised back in 2001 that 'there will be no restrictions on
journalists reporting on the Olympic Games'. But it is clear this is
not the case.

'I have spoken to journalists who say they have been denied press
credentials to cover the Olympics because they have spoken or written
about China's human rights record, and issues like Darfur or Tibet,'
says Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy
Studies and a fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC think-tank.

Indeed, reports also suggest that the government has ramped up visa
restrictions and has clamped down on allowances for protests in and
around Olympic events after the turmoil that surrounded the Olympic
torch relay earlier this year.

Internet censorship has also been addressed, in part, for the
duration of the games, as foreigners will be able to access much of
what is available to them outside China but only from their
designated internet access points in the various media locations and
their hotels.

'The real question,' Kuhn says, 'is how many restrictions Chinese
journalists face, and what kind of internet censorship ordinary
Chinese have to put up with?'

It must not be forgotten, though, that China invited a media
operation of a previously unimagined scale into the country, and is
trying to meet its demands. And the regime is trying to balance the
needs of journalists with the real threat of a security breach. In
Beijing, model plane flights have been banned for the duration of the
games, while unessential medical operations have been stopped to make
sure there is an adequate supply of blood in case of a terrorist attack.

'Hopefully foreign journalists visiting China for the first time will
take the time to look beyond the propaganda,' says Kuhn, adding that
he believes the games have brought a modicum of hope to those wanting
media reform.

'The fact is that the rules for foreign journalists have been
changed. And I think to some extent you can't put the genie back in
the bottle.'
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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