International Olympic Committee

IOC media chief sorry it did deal to censor Web

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am

A senior International Olympic Committee official apologised yesterday for misleading foreign journalists about press freedom during the Beijing Games - after it emerged the Olympic movement had cut a deal with the central government to censor the internet.

'I have [recently] been advised that some of the IOC officials had negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked,' Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, said.

'If you have been misled by what I have told you [over the months and years] about there being free internet access during the Games, then I apologise.'

But he added: 'I'm not backing off what I said. There will be full, open and free internet access during Games time to allow journalists to report on the Olympics.'

His admission, in an interview with the South China Morning Post, came as Games organiser Bocog admitted it had blocked sites referring to the Falun Gong spiritual group because it was regarded as an 'evil cult' and was banned by the government.

Since Beijing was awarded the Games seven years ago, IOC leaders, including Mr Gosper and president Jacques Rogge, as well as Chinese officials have insisted time and again that journalists working for international media at Olympic venues during Games time - which officially began on Sunday - would enjoy uncensored media access.

Mr Gosper said he believed Bocog and the IOC should have made the restrictions known earlier.

'I would like sites to be open in China. I am not here to defend the Chinese decisions. I am here to ensure journalists can report on the Games. I am disappointed the access is not wider. But I can't tell the Chinese what to do,' he said.

'You are dealing with a communist country that has censorship. You are getting what they say you can have.'

Access from the Olympic Village to the websites of organisations including Amnesty International, the Falun Gong and advocates of Tibetan independence, and to mainland dissidents, is blocked.

Bocog official Sun Weide refused to comment on the deal struck with the IOC nor on Mr Gosper's apology.

'Our constant policy has been to allow sufficient and convenient access for foreign journalists to report on the Games,' he said last night.

At a news conference earlier, he said: 'I made it crystal clear that the Chinese government considers Falun Gong to be an evil cult. I am not aware of the other sites you mention [being blocked].'

He also refused to say whether e-mails foreign journalists send from the press centre and other Games venues would be monitored.

Major news organisations will use internet servers based offshore. International journalists who can only access the Web via the official server said they were upset at being misled and being censored. Samah Soula, a television presenter for France 2, said: 'I think [it is] pitiful for the Olympic spirit and press freedom.'

Human Rights Watch, whose website is among those blocked, said: 'This proves the IOC [is] spineless.'