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Beijing promises open media environment for Olympics

BEIJING (Reuters) - This summer’s Beijing Olympics will offer a “zero refusal policy” for media interview requests, state media said on Saturday, as China tries to deflect criticism about its press controls in the run-up to the Games.

Organizers promised complete media freedom when they bid to host the Games, and while the reporting environment has improved for foreign journalists, the country has not relaxed its grip over domestic reporters, a policy criticized by rights groups.

“BOCOG will apply a zero refusal policy for interview requests, which means that all requests for interviews will be replied to,” the China Daily quoted Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, as saying.

But this week, officials banned foreign reporters covering the Olympic torch relay in the far western region of Xinjiang from interviewing people on the torch’s route, and only let in a limited number of overseas media to cover its Tibet leg.

Xinjiang and Tibet are home to restive ethnic minorities, many of whom resent the growing economic and cultural grip of the dominant Han Chinese.

Beijing will provide “an abundant information service (and) and timely interview service” to create a “reporter’s home”, Communist Party paper the People’s Daily also quoted Liu as saying, speaking at a meeting in the Chinese capital.

The U.S. chapter of PEN, which champions writer’s freedoms, said in an open letter to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that China had been stepping up its abuses of media freedom as the Olympics approached.

“We therefore entreat you in the remaining days before the Olympics to press for the release of 44 writers and journalists currently being held in Chinese prisons and to insist on complete, nationwide, unrestricted freedom of the press,” it said.

Liu added the government would step up its propaganda efforts for the Games, which open on August 8.

“Work hard to create a good public opinion environment for the Beijing Olympics,” Liu said.

Neither newspaper made any mention of Beijing’s earlier complete media freedom pledges.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by David Fogarty)

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