It’s well-known that “The Great Firewall of China” is the world’s largest Internet access control and censorship system on the planet, regularly blocking Chinese Internet users’ access to sites and information the Chinese government believes to be in some way harmful to its citizenry. Although Beijing’s host contract for the 2008 summer Olympic Games stipulates media covering the games would be allowed unfettered Internet access, China in May indicated it would not be offering unrestricted Internet access to anyone at the games, including foreign media. And sure enough: now that forieng media are turning up to cover the games, they’re finding their Internet access is locked down.
Human rights groups have been piling criticism on both China and the International Olympic Committee over China’s Internet policy during the game, but the IOC has doggedly been saying media covering the games would have unrestricted Internet access. Now, however, Kevan Gosper, a senior IOC official is expressing “surprise” that China will not be offering unbridled Internet access, tells Reuters he’s just learned access to certain sites will be blocked. “It’s learning of it at almost the last minute that I think is destabilizing the international media and certainly embarrassing for me, as up till 48 hours ago I was insisting it would be free and uncensored Internet access,” Gosper said.
Gosper is chairman of the IOC’s press commission, and was significantly involved with setting up press operations for the Beijing games.
The IOC claims “no deal with the Chinese authorities to censor the internet has ever in any way been entered into” and says it expects China will give details on how the matter has been addressed “very soon.”
Reportedly, the Beijing Olympic Committee has said China’s net censorship would not prevent journalists from reporting on the games, but that access to banned sites—such as sites advocating democracy in China, Tibetan independence, or sites about the Falun Gong movement—would be blocked. Beijing committee spokesperson Sun Weide stuck to China’s official policy that bars using the Internet to transfer illegal information, which includes anything about the banned Falun Gong movement. China has also emphasized that it has eased regulations restricting the activities of foreign journalists in China outside of major cities. Those regulations are due to expire in October, but China is reportedly considering extending them indefinitely.
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