With the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games a mere 10 days away, members of the media have learned that there is at least one thing they can expect not to be open: the Internet.
Despite earlier assurances that journalists would have unfettered access to the Internet at the Main Press Center and athletic venues, organizers are now backtracking, meaning that the some 5,000 reporters working in Beijing during the next several weeks won't have access to a multitude of sites such as Amnesty International or any site with Tibet in the address, according to an Associated Press report.
When Chinese officials were bidding for the right to hold the games seven years ago, they assured international organizers that there would be ''complete freedom to report.'' In April, Chinese organizers told International Olympic Committee members that Internet censorship, which is routine for China's citizens, would be lifted for journalists during the games.
However, IOC members issued a clarification Tuesday, saying that Internet freedom applied only to Web sites related to ''Olympic competitions.'' Some journalists expressed frustration at the slow download rates and even voiced suspicion that it was deliberate and intended to discourage use.
''This type of censorship would have been unthinkable in Athens, but China seems to have more formalities,'' Mihai Mironica, a journalist with ProTV in Romania, told the AP. ''If journalists cannot fully access the Internet here, it will definitely be a problem.''
This development is only the latest in a long string of headaches the media have suffered in China while preparing to cover the games.
When a senior vice president for NBC Sports, which paid about $900 million to broadcast the games, asked organizers last month to lift broadcast and interview restrictions at Tiananmen Square, the response was reportedly clear: "Don't push the issue."
Having the Chinese government telling you where you can and can't go on the Internet is not only frustrating but a bit unnerving as well. You can bet they are also watching journalists very carefully. Considering the way China dealt with YouTube during the Tibet crackdown earlier this year, what kind of "journalism freedoms" will reporters have if their stories offend Chinese officials?