01 August 2008

China and the Olympics: Controls on the Internet

China appears to have relented in the face of complaints from journalists’ groups over media controls imposed ahead of the Olympics in Beijing. The latest complaints dealt with the blocking of Internet access to selected websites at the main press center for the games.

According to VOA correspondent Stephanie Ho in Beijing, a colleague at the main Olympic press center reported today that he was able to access previously blocked websites for VOA and Amnesty International. The French news agency AFP reported the previously barred websites of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle were also accessible.

But many other sites were still blocked, they said, including those linked to Chinese dissidents, the Tibetan government-in-exile and sites with information on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

Still, correspondent Ho in Beijing notes another Internet improvement outside of the Olympic press center. She says the VOA news website and all its contents are now fully accessible. Until today VOANews.com could be opened but readers were unable to navigate to any links for stories or language pages, including Mandarin.

Here is an updated list of the changes in Internet access as noted today by our Beijing office:

Unblocked websites:

Voice of America—www.voanews.com
Articles, as well as multimedia now available in English and Mandarin
Amnesty International—http://www.amnesty.org
Can download PDF and html versions of new Amnesty International report “Olympics Countdown-Broken Promises”
Radio Free Asia—http://www.rfa.org
Can navigate articles in English and Mandarin
Can now access entries on Tibet, Dalai Lama, Tibetan People, Uyghur People

Several Taiwan News Outlets were also accessible, the Taipei Times, China Post, Apple Daily and Liberty Times.

Reporters Without Borders—http://www.rsf.org
Can navigate website in English
Human Rights Watch—http://www.hrw.org
Can navigate website in English

Blocked sites:

Our office in Beijing reports that websites still blocked include Amnesty International’s “China Debate” section, multimedia material on Radio Free Asia and various Tibet-related websites, including the website of the Dalai Lama.

Complaints about blocked Internet access at the Olympics had come from groups like the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which called such controls contrary to the free reporting environment promised by the hosts and the International Olympic Commission. As the group put it in a statement: “Thousands of visiting journalists will now get to experience the censorship that reporters and other internet users in China have to put up with every day.”

Reporters Without Borders had also complained as had the Committee to Protect Journalists.

We hope the improved access remains in place after the Olympics.

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