China’s Media Freedom is in Name Only

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that, in addition to the International Olympic Committee refusing to pressure China for greater media freedom, Chinese officials have ordered broadcast delays during the Olympic Games.

If China’s superstar Liu Xiang fulfils his destiny and wins gold in the 110 metre hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, most of the nation’s 1.3 billion television viewers will not see his achievement live.

Chinese authorities have ordered a 10-second broadcast delay to avoid “undesirable” incidents – such as protests or anti-Chinese slogans – being seen by the domestic masses, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily, a Chinese-language newspaper.

But technically the 4 billion viewers around the world should be able to see everything live – including any protests – under China’s promise to give the foreign media “complete freedom to report when they come to China”. This was to include uncensored internet access.

Also, the official broadcasting network will avoid filming anything other than the athletic events, which leaves few ways to reliably broadcast protests or associated events.

The other problem foreign media will have is that Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co Ltd (BOB) is responsible on behalf of the Beijing organising committee for releasing footage of all aspects of the Games, except protests.

Depending on their budgets, Olympic rights holders can put their own cameras into venues but most of the world’s media will rely on the footage BOB provides. Asked this year whether BOB would film and immediately release footage of disputes or protests, a senior executive told the Herald that “Beijing Olympic Broadcasting will do its best to avoid it”. “Why would we [film and release protests]?” the executive said. “We are not a news organisation. We’re there to film the event.”

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