IOC to probe apparent Internet censorship

BEIJING (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will investigate apparent censorship of the Internet service provided for media covering the Beijing Olympics, press chief Kevan Gosper said on Tuesday.

A policeman stands guards in front of a gate of the National Olympic Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China, which has promised media the same freedom to report on the Games as they enjoyed at previous Olympics, loosened its regulations governing foreign media in January last year.

Despite these new regulations, which are scheduled to expire in October, foreign media in China have complained of continuing harassment by officials and Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this month saying China was not living up to its pledges.

Attempts to use the Internet network at the Main Press Centre to access the website of Amnesty International, which released a report on Monday slamming China for failing to honor its Olympic human rights pledges, proved fruitless on Tuesday.

Gosper said the IOC would look into anything that interfered with reporters doing their jobs in reporting the Games.

“All of these things are a concern and we’ll investigate them but our preoccupation is that the media are able to report on the Games as they did in previous Games,” he told Reuters.

“Where it’s not happening, we’ll take the matter up with BOCOG and the authorities immediately,” he said, referring to the Beijing Olympic organizers.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said media should be able to access the Internet as usual but he also conceded that sites related to Falun Gong, the spiritual movement China considers a cult, would be blocked.

“As to sites related to Falun Gong, I think you know that Falun Gong is a cult that has been banned according to law, and we will adhere to our position,” Liu told a news conference.

He suggested that difficulties accessing certain websites could be the fault of the sites themselves.

“There are some problems with a lot of websites themselves that makes it not easy to view them in China,” Liu said.

“Our attitude is to ensure that foreign journalists have regular access to information in China during the Olympic Games.”

The Games officially open on August 8 but the Athletes’ and Media Villages are up and running and the Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre are already teeming with some of the more than 20,000 media accredited to cover the event.

“As I’ve said before, this is a country that does have censorship within its media, but we’ve been guaranteed free access, open media activity for media reporting on the Olympic Games at Games time,” Gosper said. “We are now in Games time.”

Gosper also said that there had been complaints that the Internet service provided for media was too slow.

“We’re looking into that and we’ve tracked that information into BOCOG immediately because free access to the Internet also means normal speed,” he said.

But Gosper, making his first tour of the press centre since his arrival from Australia, said he was pleased with how things looked with just 10 days to go.

“The build-up is always nervous but so far, so good.”

Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck, Editing by Nick Macfie