Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Olympics and Censorship

Just thought that this piece by an Aussie columnist captures some of my thoughts on the management of the Beijing Olympics and how international sporting organisations have no qualms in compromising basic principles of governance in favour of the almighty dollar. Read 'ICC' Cricket World Cup 2006 for IOC Beijing Olympics 2008.

Who lied to whom on press freedom?

Jacquelin Magnay

August 1, 2008

THE cosy deal between two of the world's most powerful bodies — the Chinese Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee — to strip away media freedoms reflects badly on both.

While restrictions on internet access are annoying for 10,000-plus of the world's media gathering for the Games, they signify much more than a simple frustration. Unfettered internet access was held up as a prime reflection of China's commitment to "open up" to the rest of the world. Instead, it has shown the reluctance of China's political masters to allow its citizens exposure to global opinion.

We now know that when Beijing bid for the 2008 Games seven years ago promising a new China, they lied. As I write, more than 150 websites are blocked including BBC China and German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, journalists are being harassed and areas such as Tiananmen Square are tightly restricted.

The tenor of the Games started to change a couple of months ago. A few reporters considered "undesirable" to the Chinese authorities were refused entry to the country. Then came the riots in Tibet. The Communist Party abruptly imposed a new layer of bureaucracy on Beijing Games organisers soon after the global demonstrations involving the torch relay.

Executives with Beijing businesses were refused visas and the city emptied of non-locals.
It was then that the International Olympic Committee realised it had lost control of the Games. One of its most senior members, Kevan Gosper, became a pawn.

For months, indeed years, Gosper has been saying that the internet would be freely available and there would be no restrictions imposed on the foreign media. And Gosper should know — he heads the IOC's press commission.

But, critically, he is also the vice-chairman of the IOC Co-ordination Commission for the Beijing Olympics. For seven years, Gosper has been the second most senior IOC official in Beijing.
Hein Verbruggen, the Belgian IOC member and former head of the international cycling union, was the co-ordination commission chairman. It is difficult to believe that a move to restrict press freedom was not signed off by another Belgian, IOC president Jacques Rogge.

Gosper is convincing when he insists that he didn't know of the deal and he had not deliberately misled the global press. Other press commission members also swear they have been completely misled on the issue.

Gosper says: "I am disappointed, but we are dealing with a communist country that has censorship." These are the Beijing Games indeed.

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