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News media get a censored Web at Olympics

BEIJING — The International Olympic Committee failed to press China to allow unfettered access to the Internet for the thousands of journalists arriving to cover the Olympics, despite promising repeatedly that the foreign news media could "report freely" during the games, Olympics officials acknowledged Wednesday.

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages — among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown of the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers.

The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its own citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, that China had agreed to provide free Web access for foreign news media during the games.

But a high-ranking IOC official said Wednesday that the committee was aware that China would continue to censor Web sites carrying content that Chinese propaganda authorities deemed harmful to national security and social stability. The committee acquiesced to China's demands to maintain such controls, said the official, who declined to be identified.

In its negotiations with the Chinese over Internet controls, the official said, the IOC insisted only that China provide unfettered access to sites containing information useful to reporters covering athletic competitions, not to sites that the Chinese and the Olympic committee negotiators determined had little relevance to sports.

The official said he now believed that the Chinese defined their national security needs more broadly than the Olympic committee had anticipated, denying reporters access to some information that they might need to cover the events and the host country fully.

This week, foreign news media in China were unable directly to access an Amnesty International report that detailed what it called a deterioration in China's human rights record in the prelude to the Games.

Chinese officials initially suggested that any troubles journalists were having with Internet access probably stemmed from the sites themselves, not any steps that China had taken to filter Web content. But Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, acknowledged Wednesday that journalists would not have uncensored Internet use during the Games.

"It has been our policy to provide the media with convenient and sufficient access to the Internet," Sun said. "I believe our policy will not affect reporters' coverage of the Olympic Games."

The White House said with some skepticism Wednesday that it expects the Communist country to show it is loosening restrictions on free expression — and not just during the fleeting spotlight of the Olympic Games.

"What we are looking for in China is not gestures," said Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian Affairs at the White House National Security Council. "We are looking for structural change. We are looking for long-term change."

As scrutiny grows over how China is treating its people and the visiting media, the White House defended Bush's approach to the Beijing Games. The president plans to privately prod Chinese President Hu Jintao about human rights, and speak publicly about religious freedom after attending a church service in Beijing.

Bush will then be in China for four nights, from the evening of Aug. 7 through Aug. 10. During that time, he will help dedicate a U.S. Embassy in Beijing, meet Chinese leaders, go to church and attend one of the marquee Olympic events — the basketball game between the United States and China.

Ancient Greek device also tracked Olympiad

An astronomical calculator, considered a technological marvel of antiquity, was also used to track dates of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games, researchers have found. Experts from Britain, Greece and the United States said they detected the word "Olympia" on a bronze dial, as well as the names of other games in ancient Greece on the device known as the Antikythera Mechanism. Their findings will be reported today in the British science journal Nature. The 2,100-year-old device was recovered in 1901 from an ancient shipwreck near Antikythera, a small island off Greece's south coast.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

News media get a censored Web at Olympics 07/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:45pm]
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