Chinese leader pledges media freedom during Olympics

11th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

A top Chinese official says Beijing will keep to its promise of allowing free media coverage of the Olympics Games in August.

11 July 2008

BEIJING - A top Chinese official reiterated Beijing's pledge Friday to give foreign journalists unfettered access during the Olympic games, despite scepticism by human rights advocates and continued harassment of reporters in China.

Li Changchun, the fifth-ranked official in the country, is encouraging foreign journalists to report "extensively" on the games, the China Daily newspaper said.

"China will earnestly abide by relevant regulations regarding foreign journalists' reporting activities in the country," Li was quoted as saying, while touring the newly opened Beijing International Media Centre Thursday. The centre will house non-accredited journalists for the games.

The ability to report freely during the Olympic period was one of the promises China made when it was awarded the Olympic Games in 2001. While Chinese officials repeatedly have been on the record promising journalists unfettered access, foreign journalists have continued to be restricted and harassed.

"We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China," Wang Wei promised in 2001 when he was heading Beijing's bid for the games.

Just last week, the German Olympic rights holder ZDF had a live interview on the Great Wall stopped when uniformed and plain-clothes police barged in as a reporter was transmitting a show back to Germany.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday China had violated its commitments on media freedom, and continues to block and threaten foreign journalists, with some receiving serious threats to their lives or safety.

Li said journalists can lodge complaints directly with Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee for the games, if they are unsatisfied.

Li is a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest bastion of power in the Communist Party.

Shaken by protests on international legs of the Olympic torch relay following the outbreak of deadly rioting in Tibet in March, China's authoritarian government has appeared to backtrack on promises to let reporters work as they have at previous Olympics.

A law enacted 18 months ago for the Olympic period gave reporters freedom to move around the country, without prior permission, although Tibet has been off limits.

The law has improved access in many areas, although reporting remains a problem in the provinces and journalists were barred access to a large swath of Tibetan areas of western China after the March riots.

Standing by Liu Qi, Li said he hoped foreign journalists can provide full coverage of the games, and tell the world the truth about China, the newspaper said.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, that despite journalists' fears of restrictions and censorship, the media would have freedom to move and work in Beijing.

"Never will the media have had so many possibilities as today," he said. "Nothing is perfect and we are pushing very hard to get the maximum out of it. Today I think any objective observer must say that this is something new and this is something that will have a lasting legacy in China," Rogge told The Associated Press in an interview.

[AP / Expatica]

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