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In Beijing, Reporters Encounter Internet Curbs as Olympics Near

Beijing is putting the final touches on preparations for the start of the Olympic Games on Aug. 8 -- but reporters are encountering Internet curbs despite expectations of open Web access for foreign journalists. A reporter and media expert weigh the issue.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, China censors the World Wide Web for international journalists. Ray Suarez has the story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Beijing is putting its final touches on the summer Games before they open next week. But the Chinese government seems to be sprinting away from one opening they had promised: the ability of journalists to, quote, "report freely."

    In the last few days, Chinese authorities have blocked Internet access for foreign journalists to some politically sensitive Web sites. Fabian Tetelboim is an Argentine reporter in Beijing for the games.

  • FABIAN TETELBOIM, Argentine Reporter:

    I saw some Web pages that are blocked, International Amnesty. On Wikipedia, I tried to find out something about Tibet, and it was impossible.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The government has long kept Chinese citizens and visitors from Web sites it deems unacceptable using its so-called "Great Firewall." Again this week, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee said it would allow journalists open access to the Web.

  • SUN WEIDE, Spokesperson, Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee (through translator):

    We will be providing full access to the Internet to facilitate your reporting during the Olympic Games.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But an International Olympic Committee spokesman confirmed the government had blocked some Web sites.

  • KEVIN GOSPER, Chairman, IOC Media Commission:

    There are certain sites that they are blocking which are non-related to the Olympic Games. Our preoccupation is to ensure that the international media can report on the Olympic Games. And anything beyond that is a matter for the Chinese authorities.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The Chinese measures appear to break a promise the Beijing organizers made when the city was awarded the games in 2001.

    As part of their bid, China pledged journalists would have complete freedom to report.

    Late today, the International Olympic Committee said it met with organizers to discuss the restrictions. The IOC stressed that it had not previously cut a deal with the Chinese permitting any media censorship.

  • GISELLE DAVIES, Spokesperson, IOC:

    Having understood yesterday that there were difficulties with access to some sites, which obviously goes against our desire to always have had media having access they need, we understand that the organizers tomorrow will confirm how they've remedied the situation. And we're encouraged by some early signs.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Media restrictions are a widely acknowledged price of doing business in China, as the NewsHour's Margaret Warner found in May. The head of Google's China operation told her the company censors itself in China.

  • KAI-FU LEE, President, Google China:

    Our choices are, A, we filter, comply by the law, and have a legal presence in China or, B, we don't enter China. There are certain content that are known to us to be not acceptable, and we would delete them from being shown — from showing up in search results.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So Tiananmen Square or Tibet, for example, or Falun Gong, you all take care of just blocking that?

  • KAI-FU LEE:

    Those are the — some of the examples, yes.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    With the Olympics a week away, whether the press can cover events outside the games remains an open question.

    For more on all this, we get two views. Andrew Nathan is professor of political science at Columbia University. He's written extensively about China and is co-chair of Human Rights in China, an advocacy organization.

    And Bobby Ghosh is world editor for Time magazine. He was based in Hong Kong for several years in the 1990s.

    We invited representatives from the Chinese embassy to participate, but they declined.

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