Foreign media raise fresh fears on 2008 Games coverage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am

The world's sporting media pleaded with organisers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to guarantee press freedom and sweep away the red tape ahead of next year's games.

International media chiefs attending the two-day world press briefing in Beijing told organisers Bocog they fear 'cumbersome' bureaucracy, restricted internet access and heavy-handed treatment of foreign journalists will seriously affect their coverage of the Olympics.

Among many paperwork nightmares, foreign media must individually apply to every province for permission to cover the iconic relay torch on its long trip across China.

'The procedure is cumbersome, bureaucratic and expensive,' one frustrated US broadcaster told China's Olympic officials. 'Normally, there is just one accreditation to cover the entire torch relay. This will have to change,' he added.

And despite new regulations introduced nine months ago to abolish travel and interview restrictions, foreign correspondents on the mainland are still routinely stopped, searched, interrogated - and sometimes detained, causing mounting anxiety among many of the 320 overseas delegates.

However, Bocog media director Sun Weijia said 'freedom of reporting will be ensured' for the 20,000-plus foreign journalists expected.

But he admitted decisions on access to China's tightly controlled cyberspace - which sees many internet sites blocked - were out of Bocog's control, because they are 'made at the highest levels of the Chinese government'. Instead, 'convenient internet access will be conducted without difficulties'.

'Bocog are trying their best,' said one delegate after the briefing ended yesterday.

'They'll run our complaints up the flag pole to the government, and will just have to see what comes back down.'

The International Olympic Committee will return to the host city over the next few weeks to iron out the list of complaints during crunch co-ordination meetings.