Convenient, Sufficient, and Censored

Contrary to assurances from the International Olympic Committee, The New York Times reports, journalists covering the Beijing games will not have uncensored access to the Internet:

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages—among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown on the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC's Chinese-language news, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse....

Mr. Sun [chief spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee] said foreigners using the Internet in China would be subject to the same laws under which censors blocked access to a wide range of Web sites thought to be detrimental to stability. China has long maintained that its laws governing Internet access do not amount to censorship and are similar to restrictions on pornography or gambling sites in many countries.

As I suggested in my recent reason article about online gambling, that comparison, though obviously self-serving, should not be lightly dismissed. The U.S. government's heavy-handed attempts to stop Americans from visiting sites where they can play poker or bet on sports undermine its moral authority in attacking other countries' Web restrictions.

As far as Chinese officials are concerned, foreign journalists' Internet access is "convenient and sufficient" for covering the Olympic games. In their view, such coverage does not include the concerns that critics of the Beijing Games have raised about China's human rights abuses. While visiting journalists were dismayed to find that they "were unable to gain direct access to an Amnesty International report detailing what it called a deterioration in China's human rights record in the prelude to the Games," the Chinese government is dismayed at their dismay. Needless to say, from the government's perspective, talking about the Web censorship imposed on reporters covering the games is also not part of covering the games. Nevertheless, for a regime eager to be perceived as civilized and enlightened, denying the news media unfettered Internet access was probably not the savviest P.R. move.

A few years ago, after my own encounter with China's Internet filtering, I pondered the strange, half-free condition of Chinese Web surfers. In a 2002 column, I suggested that French censors could learn a thing or two from their Chinese counterparts.

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  • ||

    an Amnesty International report detailing what it called a deterioration in China's human rights record in the prelude to the Games

    Like demolishing large numbers of houses and forcibly relocating their occupants, to make room for Olympic facilities?

    Olympic totalitarian thuggery; just don't watch.

  • ||

    Just extremely wishful thinking here, but what a historic statement it would make: NBC refuses to televise the games. Yeah they would lose gazillions of ad dollars, but at least they could look at themselves in the mirror.

  • Ben||

    How did China get the Olympics in the first place?

  • Episiarch||

    The only thing that makes the Olympics interesting is the thuggery. How far will China go? Stay tuned!

  • ||

    How did China get the Olympics in the first place?

    Because of South Korea. In 1986, Seoul put in a bid for the games. In order to get them, they had to make all of these promises to improve their democratic system, their civil rights, and other improvements. In the run-up to the games, they followed through, and the Olympics served as South Korea's big coming-out party on the world stage, as a nation to be respected both as a heavy-hitter and a top-tier democracy.

    China made all sorts of similar promises, too. They wanted to have an Olympic-sized coming out party, too, and the IOC hoped that they would respond like South Korea.

    Well, so much for that. Of course, rather than being a "coming out party on the world stage that enhances their reputation and prestige," the Beijing games are turning out to be a "great big black eye in the full glare of the world press."

  • Confused hippie||

    Free Sherbet!

  • ||

    The savvy reporters will have already found ways around this. The internet is built around the concept of routing around traffic impediments.

  • ed||

    Olympic totalitarian thuggery; just don't watch

    But do watch this short Olympics trailer. Satire from yours truly.

  • robc||

    Jacob,

    The U.S. government's heavy-handed attempts to stop Americans from visiting sites where they can play poker or bet on sports undermine its moral authority in attacking other countries' Web restrictions.

    I havent run across a gambling site that I cant visit. None of them are blocked. They may not accept money from me, but I can get to the sites. Not the same thing. (although still troubling and stupid)

  • Abdul||

    The savvy reporters will have already found ways around this. The internet is built around the concept of routing around traffic impediments.

    It's well known that the Chi-coms censor-fu is no match for VPNstyle!

  • Buckwheat||

    ...the Chinese government is dismayed at their dismay

    Dismay be my lucky day!

  • Guy Montag||

    Perhaps we should engage them in a dialogue.

  • Rhywun||

    "China has long maintained that its laws governing Internet access do not amount to censorship and are similar to restrictions on pornography or gambling sites in many countries."



    The reasons America restricts porn and gambling (prudery, "protecting us from ourselves") have absolutely nothing to do with either the stated reason for China's censorship ("stability") or the real reason (power).

  • Rhywun||

    China made all sorts of similar promises, too.



    They couldn't have been THAT similar, given the lack of anything resembling a "democratic system" or "civil rights". The simple fact is, China got the games because they wanted them. They are just not subject to human rights scrutiny any more, not from anyone that matters.

  • ||

    What is truly amazing is that the olympic committee didn't mandate uncensored internet access for journalists as a condition for hosting the olympics.

    Oh wait, the olympic committee the same group that takes bribes, and rigs judging, my bad. Please ignore the above comment.

    Regards

    Joe Dokes

  • Guy Montag||

    The simple fact is, China got the games because they wanted them.

    Well, there are those other reasons too. Like those international bodies being packed full of squishy elitist international socialists.

  • ||

    Wait, is someone paying attention to the Olympics?


    Actually, I hear that just in time for the Games the Chinese have made it a lot harder to get a visa. Tourism is down and a travel agents report that a bunch of people have cancelled because they've decided it's not worth the trouble. A lot of hotel owners The luxury ones are OK but not lower-priced ones) and other tourist dependent folks are pissed, not pissed enough to get on the wrong side of the authorities by complaining too vocally, though, I suspect.

    Maybe the only people there will be the athletes and reporters.

  • ed||

    The retarded-looking Olympic architecture will be good for a few laughs.

  • Telly||

    I heard on CNN yesterday that the Olympic Committee was requiring an "under the hood check" by Olympic doctors to verify that some of the athletes competing as females were actually females.

  • Nigel Watt||

    The retarded-looking Olympic architecture will be good for a few laughs.

    If anybody can see it through the smog.

  • gianfalco||

    Just a little lifting to the olympic games logo...

  • Guy Montag||

    I heard on CNN yesterday that the Olympic Committee was requiring an "under the hood check" by Olympic doctors to verify that some of the athletes competing as females were actually females.

    I believe that has been around since the 1970s, but a physical check is pretty worthless. Would guess a DNA check would be better?

  • ||

    I heard on CNN yesterday that the Olympic Committee was requiring an "under the hood check" by Olympic doctors to verify that some of the athletes competing as females were actually females.

    I call beach volleyball!

  • ||

    waitasec, on what planet is the American government block pornography?

    And AFAIK, the good ol' US of A isn't blocking gambling sites, it's arresting the owners and customers.

    I don't think we have much (other than BCRA) in the way of prior restraint.

  • ||

    How did China get the Olympics in the first place?

    Probably the same way any other country does.

    Bribery.

    The retarded-looking Olympic architecture will be good for a few laughs.

    Actually, I think their main stadium (the "Birds Nest") is a masterpiece. And I'm usually not a big fan of that kind of thing.

  • B||

    "As I suggested in my recent reason article about online gambling, that comparison, though obviously self-serving, should not be lightly dismissed. The U.S. government's heavy-handed attempts to stop Americans from visiting sites where they can play poker or bet on sports undermine its moral authority in attacking other countries' Web restrictions"


    This may be one of the stupidest passages I have ever read on this site. How is limiting access to sites about Tibet and Tianenman even remotely the same as outlawing online participation in an activity that is already illegal in the majority of the United States? I guess next you are going to tell us that limiting purchases at bogus internet pharmacies undermines our objections to Chinese censorship as well. Please, spare us the ridiculous fucking hyperbole.

  • ||

    Joseph Sternberg's article in WSJ online today critizing the Olympic Committee's spinelessness includes this disturbing note:

    "For a business, there wouldn't be anything inherently wrong with any of this [tolerating censorship, etc.]. This is how businesses create jobs and prosperity. That includes complying with local laws, even when they might not like them. Indeed, companies' bargain with society is that instead of having to look out for the broader common good, they pay taxes so government can do so."

    This last assumption kind of floored me; is it widespread or just Mr. Sternberg's own fantasy?

    See link:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121781334847208879.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

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