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Beijing's Olympic organisers are reneging on their promises to give journalists full Internet access when covering the Games, blocking websites in the Main Press Centre and other venues where reporters will work, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and news reports.

According to Reuters and The Associated Press, International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials have cut a deal with China to allow the blocking of sensitive websites from the media during the Games, senior IOC official Kevan Gosper said on 30 July.

A day earlier, Amnesty International's website and any search for a site with "Tibet" in the address could not be opened at the press centre, which will house about 5,000 print journalists when the Games open next week. Amnesty had just released a report slamming China for failing to honour its Olympic human rights pledges.

Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, had previously said that Internet access for the more than 20,000 journalists accredited for the Games would be "free and open."

Hearing that certain websites were being blocked inside the press centre, Gosper told Reuters, "I ... now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games-related."

Gosper said that he regrets that there will be limitations, and believes the Chinese organisers and the IOC "should have conveyed a clear message to the international media, insofar as this affects Internet access, at an earlier stage."

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing organizers, confirmed the authorities would only guarantee "sufficient" Internet access for accredited media.

Access to the BBC and other foreign news sites, such as the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the Hong Kong tabloid "Apple Daily" have also been blocked in recent days, says RSF. RSF's website was also inaccessible. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that sites relating to the Falun Gong movement, which the government calls a dangerous cult, will also be blocked to journalists.

"I am disheartened by reports today that China not only never intended to provide unfettered access to the Internet, but that senior IOC officials were complicit in this arrangement," said CPJ chair Paul Steiger. "These reports reflect a major setback. The IOC must address this very disturbing issue promptly and publicly."

The censored Internet is the latest broken promise on press freedoms. When China made its bid for the Olympics seven years ago, it promised that the foreign media would have "complete freedom to report."

Last Friday, local police roughed up Hong Kong reporters and camera crews and confiscated their footage when they were covering a dispute among people queuing to buy tickets for Olympic events, report the Hong Kong Journalists' Association and IFJ.

Though some travel restrictions were eased on foreign journalists in January 2007, the relaxed rules were largely ignored during the Tibet protests in March.

In the run up to the Games, IFEX members have been documenting the numerous ways China has not been living up to its pledges, and have been campaigning for change. See IFEX's special sections on the Beijing Games: and
RSF has also released a guide on how to evade Internet censorship for foreign journalists heading to Beijing. Read it here:

Also visit these links:
- CPJ:
- RSF:
- IFJ:
- Reuters:
- The Associated Press:
(Photo: The Main Press Centre for the Beijing Olympics. Andy Wong/AP)

(30 July 2008)

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