China pledges media freedom at Olympic Games

By Henry Sanderson

China will abide by regulations to allow foreign reporters freedom to report at next month's Olympic Games, one of the country's top leaders was quoted as saying Friday.

Li Changchun, the fifth-ranked official in the country and a member of China's powerful Politburo, encouraged foreign journalists to report "extensively" on the games, the China Daily newspaper said.

"China will earnestly abide by relevant regulations regarding foreign journalists' reporting activities in the country," he told the newspaper while touring the newly opened Beijing International Media Center on Thursday.

Although Chinese officials repeatedly have been on the record as promising journalists unfettered access, foreign reporters have been restricted and harassed.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this week that China had violated its commitments to media freedom and continues to block and threaten foreign journalists, with some receiving serious threats to their lives or safety.

And just last week, German Olympic rights holder ZDF television had a live interview on the Great Wall stopped when uniformed and plainclothes police barged in as a reporter was transmitting a show back to Germany.

The ability to report freely during the Olympic period was one of the promises China made when it was awarded the Olympic Games in 2001.

Li said journalists can lodge complaints directly with Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee for the games, if they are unsatisfied.

Li is a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest bastion of power in the Communist Party.

Shaken by protests on international legs of the Olympic torch relay following the outbreak of deadly rioting in Tibet in March, China's authoritarian government has appeared to backtrack on promises to let reporters work as they have at previous Olympics.

A law enacted 18 months ago for the Olympic period gave reporters freedom to move around the country, without prior permission, although Tibet has been off limits. The law has improved access in many areas, although reporting remains a problem in the provinces and journalists were barred access to a large swathe of Tibetan areas of western China after the March riots.

Standing by Liu Qi, Li said he hoped foreign journalists could provide full coverage of the games and tell the world the truth about China, the newspaper said.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, that despite journalists' fears of restrictions and censorship, the media would have freedom to move and work in Beijing.

"Never will the media have had so many possibilities as today," he said.

Copyright © 2008 AP

Published in:
AP Google – fHyphEs0Dwbrmh6VqWIAD91RECPG0