Officials at the International Olympic Committee are calling on Beijing to open Internet access during the upcoming games. As Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong, the issue is a sensitive subject for authorities in China, who have long restricted access to information in the country.
During meetings this week in Beijing a top-ranking International Olympic Committee official told Beijing organizers that restricting access to the Internet during the games would reflect poorly on the host nation.
Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission, said the Olympic body is concerned that journalists will not be able to operate as they have at previous games. He says that China has an obligation to provide full Internet access to the 30,000 journalists expected to be in Beijing for the games.
China regularly blocks access to Internet sites that officials think portray China in a negative light. VOA is among many organizations whose Web sites are usually not accessible in mainland China, as are on-line information site Wikipedia and various human rights groups.
Fan Ho-tsai is chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalist's Association. She is hopeful that China will comply with the IOC's request, but says that given Beijing's history of restricting controversial information, it may prove difficult.
"I know that when we are in China, when we look for specific words on the Internet, say the June 4th incident, well you cannot get any Web sites available at all," she said.
Fan is referring to the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square, when authorities violently ended weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Most recently, Chinese authorities restricted several Internet sites following violent riots in Tibet. Protests began there last month on the anniversary on a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Chinese officials say 19 people died, including one policeman. But Tibetans say the numbers are much higher and that many were killed by Chinese security forces.
Fan says authorities in Beijing are under pressure because of criticism by several countries and organizations over human rights issues.
"As the Olympic games are drawing near, China is under the skeptical eye of the whole world, of the press of all over the world. And we are keeping a close eye on how things going on, how they treat the journalists," Fan said.
China loosened restrictions on foreign media earlier this year in light of the coming games. But open Internet access is still not available.
China's Foreign Ministry acknowledges that China bans some Internet content, but has declined to say if access will be unrestricted for journalists during the games.