Thursday, July 31, 2008

Olympic Fun and Games

The International Federation of Journalists has denounced the "extravagant requirements" imposed by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) on the EBU and its members for use of their radio broadcasts of the Olympics on the internet.

In an arrangement with the EBU, the IOC asks for the Internet use of radio broadcasts to be limited under certain conditions, notably with the application of geo-block denying access from outside the EBU territory, thus impeding certain users from accessing the sites. Moreover, the arrangement prohibits the use of moving pictures and restricts advertisement on web without prior authorisation from the IOC.

This is really great news for the international broadcasters or anyone on holiday outside their own country. You can't do any Olympics coverage of any significance without breaking this "agreement".

This situation isn't new. These nonsensical rules have been made (and broken) in the past. Perhaps it needs a test case to put these idiots back into their reality corner.

The IFJ makes a link between these latest requirements and recent Internet restrictions imposed on journalists covering the Olympic Games by the Chinese authorities. The news out of China in the last few weeks is all over the place.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the sentence of one year of re-education through work which, according to Human Rights in China, was imposed on 23 July on Liu Shaokun, a teacher at Guanghan school in Deyang, in Sichuan province, for posting photos of earthquake-damaged schools on the internet.

Liu was charged with "disrupting the social order" on 25 June after visiting areas in Sichuan that were badly hit by the 12 May earthquake and taking photos of collapsed schools in order to expose "tofu" (poor quality) construction methods. Under Chinese law, officials can impose sentences of re-education through work without holding a trial.

"Coming after the arrests of retired teacher Zheng Hongling and human rights activist Huang Qi for providing information about the Sichuan earthquake, Liu Shaokun's sentence is the latest example of post-quake repression," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call for the release of all three, as they are being detained solely because of what they reported."

Meanwhile, Radio Australia reported earlier today while relaying the Radio National "PM" programme]

The Olympic movement is starting to question China's right to host the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee has been closed-mouthed today about the breaking of a promise of a free and open Beijing games. But privately, IOC members are enraged by the blocking of sensitive websites and the use of spyware in media hotels to monitor the use of the Internet.

An IOC member who has spoken to "PM" says if the committee knew now what was known during the bidding process [as heard, i.e. the other way round], China would never have got the games. Olympic reporter Karen Barlow is in Beijing:

[Barlow] It's been another day at the Olympics where sport and athletes are barely getting a mention. Scheduled press conferences about medical services and water sanitation have been hijacked by journalists still trying to find out how their work is being hampered by the local authorities.

Senior International Olympic Committee officials have been in meetings all day and have been unavailable to comment on their deal with China to allow the censorship regime to continue during the Olympics period. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games is standing by its view that the blocked websites are not games-related and therefore not needed by the media. BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide:

[Sun, voiceover translation] The reason why you cannot go to some of these websites, the reason is they are disclosing or they are doing something illegal or transmit information that [is] illegal, based on the Chinese laws. For instance, they are propagating this evil cult of Falun Gong. They are doing something that is detrimental to the national interest of China. So I hope the press will respect the Chinese laws' regulations.

[Barlow] There is no explanation for the use of spyware in hotels were journalists are staying. Hotel management have been asked to install the programmes to find out what websites are being looked at.

The president of the Australian Olympic Committee: John Coates, has not been involved in IOC discussions with China over the media, but he is personally disappointed by the deal.

[Coates] I was upset when I heard about it yesterday. I think it's a great pity. But if that's how it's going to be, so be it. It might change, it might not. But it's not going to have any impact on my primary responsibility for the team.

[Barlow] The deal has also disappointed the Australian government. But the foreign minister, Stephen Smith, is pleased that the head of the IOC's press commission, Kevan Gosper, has apologized for misleading the media.

[Smith] On the basis of what I've read, that apology seemed like it was well worth giving and required to be given.

[Barlow] Privately, IOC members on the ground in Beijing are enraged the IOC Executive has cut any deal to allow censorship at the Olympic Games. An IOC member has told "PM" that the Internet clampdown is hideous and it is apparent that there are too many restrictions on broadcasters. The member says Beijing has broken its promises by muzzling the media, but he admits the Olympic movement was naive to believe Chinese authorities in the first place.

It appears now that China never had any intention of removing its Internet censorship, and the member says if that had been known seven years ago during the bidding process, it never would have got to hold the Olympic Games.

BBC World Service Chinese section is facing good and bad news. Their website in Mandarin is suddenly accessible from within China, but the head of the department
Lorna Ball has had her invitation to the games withdrawn without explanation. She had expected to be a guest of China Radio International (CRI), the state broadcaster, at the ceremony in Beijing next week. Until this week, it was interpreted in London as a sign that the mood of the authorities towards the World Service's Cantonese- and Mandarin-language arms might be thawing. Ball does not know whether it was CRI, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) or the government which rescinded her ticket.

As part of the World Service's Free to Speak series, Ball had co-hosted a forum on media freedom at the London School of Economics last November, when the audience was made up entirely of UK-based Chinese students.

BBC Chinese still suffers deliberate "interference" that prevents listeners accessing its content on shortwave in the major cities. The Chinese jammers are effective - and have been for years.

Do the Chinese audiences care about these events being highlighted in the Western press? No they don't - not in the slightest.

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