01 Aug 2008

Beijing’s Totalitarian Olympics

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John Murrell says foreign journalists arriving to cover the Olympics in Beijing are finding there’s more than air quality different about the local atmosphere.

Apparently, China’s promise that the 20,000 foreign journalists covering the Olympic Games would have unfettered Internet access is going the same way as its pledge to provide breathable air — up in smoke. …

Early arrivals at the main press center found themselves unable to access scores of sites on the usual topics the Chinese government prefers to keep quiet — among them Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square and the sites of Amnesty International, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers. “It has been our policy to provide the media with convenient and sufficient access to the Internet,” said Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee. “I believe our policy will not affect reporters’ coverage of the Olympic Games.” …

Meanwhile, Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., says he has documents indicating that China has forced all the major foreign-owned hotels to install spying equipment that will monitor the Net activities of journalists, athletes’ families and guests during the Games and beyond. The Public Security Bureau’s order says failure to comply could bring financial penalties, suspension of Net access, or the loss of a license to operate a hotel in China. “These hotels are justifiably outraged by this order, which puts them in the awkward position of having to craft pop-up messages explaining to their customers that their Web history, communications, searches and key strokes are being spied on by the Chinese government,” Brownback said.

I’m sure the host country will put on a lovely tribute to the Olympic ideals during the opening ceremonies, but it’s going to be awfully hard not to gag a little while watching.

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