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Beijing backflip over web freedom
There are tensions in the IOC after China deny the media promised web freedom in Beijing.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2008 15:44 GMT

The Chinese government has increased its supervision of the internet in recent times [GALLO/GETTY] 
There is tension in the senior ranks of the International Olympic Committee, with the head of its press commission suggesting that IOC president Jacques Rogge consented to Chinese plans to censor Internet access during the Beijing Olympics.

Kevan Gosper, the press commission head, said he was startled to find out earlier this week that websites for Amnesty International or others dealing with Tibet, Tiananmen Square or the spiritual group Falun Gong would be blocked in the work rooms for reporters covering the games.

China's communist government routinely filters its own citizens' access to the Internet.

But for months Gosper, Rogge and others have publicly said Beijing agreed to unblock the web during the games, and they touted the shift as a sign of the Olympics' liberalising effect on China.

'Fall guy'

The reversal, Gosper said, left him feeling like the "fall guy.''

"I would be surprised if someone made a change without at least informing Rogge," Gosper said.

"But I really do not know the detail. I only know the ground rules on censorship have changed but have only been announced here. It must have related to a former understanding to which I was not a party.''

"This certainly isn't what we guaranteed the international media and it's certainly contrary to normal circumstances of reporting on Olympic Games,'' added Gosper, a long-serving IOC member from Australia.

Rogge arrived in Beijing, but declined to speak as he left the airport.

The issue is sure to persist during five days of IOC meetings ahead of the August 8 opening of the Beijing Games.

Complaints

Television broadcasters have also said that Beijing is reneging on promises for unfettered access and live broadcasts.

The complaints add to other controversies over pollution and human rights that have tarnished an Olympics which the government hoped would showcase China as an open, rising power.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies linked some of the problems to misunderstandings.

"We're working with the organisers to understand what the issues are here,'' Davies said.

"There has been quite a lot of confusion.''

Gosper said he first learned of China's backtracking on Internet access when Beijing organising committee spokesman Sun Weide announced Tuesday that journalists would have only "sufficient", not unrestricted, access to the Internet.

Isolated

Since then, Gosper said he has felt "a bit isolated" within the IOC and was surprised at being left out of the loop.

"I suspect an agreement has been reached, or an understanding has been reached,'' Gosper said.

"It may well have been done by the executive board, done in another place by very senior people in the IOC. It may have taken into consideration new circumstances in this year leading up to the games where there has been quite a lot of trauma around China, and within China.''

Gosper was referring to deadly riots in March in Tibet, followed by chaotic protests on international stages of the torch relay.

On May 12 an 7.9-earthquake struck southwest China, killing just under 70,000 people.

"I have to accept that I appear to be the fall guy and may be the fall guy,'' Gosper said.

Asked what he would say to Rogge when they meet, Gosper replied, "I'll keep that to myself until I see Jacques.''

Source:
Agencies
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