Tuesday, August 5, 2008

IOC convinces China to unblock internet

THE International Olympic Committee bowed to world media outrage yesterday and forced China to begin unblocking the internet for the Olympic Games.

The backdown followed meetings between IOC president Jacques Rogge and press commission chairman Kevan Gosper, who was deeply embarrassed when the sporting body failed to force China to honour an agreement to provide unfettered internet access during the Olympics.
While banned sites, including Amnesty International, were unblocked for the first time ever in Beijing yesterday, Mr Gosper said other sites about the banned Falun Gong movement would probably remain unavailable.
"We have a team working with BOCOG to unblock sites to make it easier for reporters and to remove any concerns that sites are censored," a relieved Mr Gosper said. "Apart from those sites, for example, which relate to pornography, which is common to every country in the world to block, and sites which could be considered subversive, all other sites should be free to enable all reporters to properly report on the Games as they have in previous Games."
The IOC was maintaining yesterday that no secret deal had been done to allow China to maintain its censorship of the internet and spy on emails.
But its shift in forcing China into last-minute concessions told a different story.
The IOC, which has received billions of dollars of revenue from Olympic television broadcast rights, record sponsorship and advertising revenues for the Beijing Games, drastically underestimated the backlash over China's internet censorship and was unprepared for the controversy that followed.
In a statement yesterday, the IOC said that it had "always encouraged the Beijing 2008 organisers to provide the media with the fullest access possible to report on the Olympic Games, including access to the internet".
A week of controversy led to meetings between IOC executive director Gilbert Felli and the chairman of the IOC's Co-ordination Commission for the 2008 Games, Hein Verbruggen, with senior Chinese organisers to begin freeing up the internet.
"The issues were put on the table and the IOC requested that the Olympic Games hosts address them," Mr Gosper said.
There was also a meeting yesterday in Beijing between Mr Rogge and Mr Gosper in which Australia's senior Olympic member was assured he had never been left out of the loop or hung out to dry by the IOC.
"Rogge said, 'I want to assure you I have always kept you informed and we have not shifted anywhere on this and wouldn't have without your involvement'," Mr Gosper said of the meeting with Mr Rogge.
"I said: 'I'm very pleased to hear that because I had big doubts this week. The situation was very bad.'
"Rogge said: 'I want to give you an unequivocal assurance that I have not in any way deviated from our position that we require an uncensored internet.'
"I said: 'If that is the case, you had better put out a statement pretty quickly.' He said: 'I'm here to tell you that there's no deal.'
"He said he was taken aback as much as anybody in the last few days that sites like the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Amnesty International, and so on were blocked.
"He said: 'I also want to tell you that we have got a working group at this time, which is working with BOCOG to start unblocking these sites.'
"It has been a hard week."


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