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China opens crack in Great Firewall for Olympic press
August 1, 2008, Ars Technica
It's closed! It's open! It's closed! It's open again! The Chinese government has once again agreed to open the Internet for press during the Olympic Games, apparently after being pressured by the International Olympic Committee, which in turn was pressured by the international journalism community. The IOC announced today that the press would, again, be able to report on the Games as freely as they have in other countries, and declared the issue "solved."
The news comes just days after furor over China's continued Internet censorship reached fever pitch, as journalists began to arrive in Beijing in preparation for the Games' commencement August 8. China had originally promised, as part of its host city agreement, that it would open the Internet so that the press could report on the Games freely, but journalists quickly found that was not the case. This week, they complained of extremely slow Internet connections in the Main Press Centre (which some theorized was a deterrent from using the Internet altogether), completely inaccessible international web sites, and even "harassment" from Chinese law enforcement.
At the time, the IOC seemed to be both alarmed at the news and resigned to it. The IOC had told certain news outlets that it was looking into the issue and that the press would still need unfettered Internet access. On the other hand, the organization admitted that certain web sites and topics would continue to be censored thanks to an agreement with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOCOG). This drew the ire of journalists everywhere, many of whom excoriated the IOC for not trying harder to hold China to its promises.
Now, however, things are magically solved. The IOC said in a statement issued today that the Committee met with BOCOG and the issues are in the process of being fixed. "Already we put a team together in the IOC to work with BOCOG to begin to open up sites which we believe are absolutely necessary to comply with noncensored reporting of the Games," IOC Press Commission chairman Kevan Gosper told Reuters. "We are in the process of getting web sites which were previously blocked unblocked."
Indeed, it seems as if web sites that the press had previously complained about not being accessible, such as Amnesty International's website and the BBC's Chinese version, are now accessible through Beijing—at least according to WebSitePulse's Great Firewall test. But the IOC warned that while these sites may be accessible to journalists in Beijing, the rest of the country would still be subject to China's filtered version of the Internet. Additionally, certain types of sites will remain blocked across all of China, including porn and those that are considered "subversive" or against national interests (such as sites related to the Falun Gong and many Tibetan organizations). Gosper attempted to justify this by adding, "That's normal in most countries in the world." Um, yeah... right.
Some organizations that previously criticized China and the IOC cautiously applauded today's progress, although they remained somewhat skeptical. Reporters Without Borders, whose web site has been blocked by the Chinese government since 2003, found that its web site is now not only accessible in various parts of Beijing, but also in some areas of Shanghai. "This is good news, of course," the organization noted, "but it continues to be unacceptable that the Chinese government can decide, according to its mood, which web sites are censored and which are accessible. And how long will these sites be available to the 253 million Chinese Internet users, who continue to be subject to massive online censorship?"