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China Promises Media Freedom, One Month Before Olympics


With just one month to go before the Olympics, China is reaffirming its promises of complete media freedom and unfettered Internet access during the games. These assurances come even as foreign journalists working in Beijing report continued harassment and interference by Chinese authorities. Stephanie Ho has more on the story.

China has unveiled its new media centers, which are the largest ever built for any Olympics. The Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center have been set up to serve more than 21,000 foreign and domestic reporters who will be covering the Olympics.

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, told reporters China takes media service seriously.

He says China has honored its commitment to "adopt all kinds of measures to provide every convenience for journalists."

At the opening ceremony, the International Olympic Committee's Hein Verbruggen praised BOCOG, the Beijing organizing committee, and said many journalists coming to cover the Olympics never even have to leave the facility.

"We wish to thank BOCOG, because they have made great efforts to provide excellent services for the press, such as providing all that is virtually needed for the media to make this their home for several weeks, from hair dressers, gyms, restaurants, to even a massage center," Verbruggen said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said "journalists are our friends," and reiterated pledges that, during the Olympics, reporters are allowed to talk to whomever they want to, as long as the interviewee gives his or her permission.

However, Johannes Hano, from German broadcaster ZDF, says his experience last week was very different from what Chinese officials have described.

"We were stopped by security guards last week, on the Great Wall, and we had all the permissions we needed. They stopped us," he said. "We had a rehearsal before and nobody interfered. But when we started the live (shot), when we were on air, then they stopped us, running to the camera, putting their hands on the camera."

Hano said he does not care as much about the working facilities, as he does about having the ability to report freely. He said he is worried that, despite Chinese promises, media freedom will be seriously curtailed.

His concerns were echoed by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which has recorded 259 cases of reporting interference since January 1, 2007. That is the date the new, more open, rules for Olympic reporting went into effect.