Tim Johnson, Beijing bureau chief for McLatchy newspapers was among a cadre of Western reporters invited to tour the recently finished Olympic Village where visiting athletes will live during the games. He was impressed with the new facilities, but Chinese officials dodged reporters’ questions about security at the complex. Their reticence left Johnson shaking his head:
From soundings of foreign correspondents, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are impressed with the “hardware” of the Games _ the facilities are beautiful, even stunning _ but there is much work to be done on the “software.” That means that questions go unanswered at news conferences, or responses to news events are not forthcoming.
Two examples: When the Sunday Times, a London newspaper, reported a couple of months ago that 10 workers had died during construction of the “Bird’s Nest” national stadium, it took Olympics officials days to respond, and they couldn’t get their facts straight even then. A second example occurred last month when Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg bailed out as one of the artistic directors of the opening and closing ceremonies, Beijing Olympics officials were no where to be found to respond.
This may sound like needless harping. If so, please enjoy the beautiful facilities. But if there is a real news event in the run-up or during the Games, Chinese officials will get a quick and painful lesson on managing information in an emergency. Either they will respond quickly and openly, or they will get a set of aches and bruises not worthy of a well-trained Olympic athlete.