The IOC’s attitude to China’s treatment of journalists is worrying
DOUG GILLON, Athletics Correspondent
The Herald, UK - December 05 2007 - When younger colleagues bleat about difficulties in modern journalism - and shouldering a laptop has to be easier than carting a typewriter and basket of homing pigeons to football matches - I'm inclined to remind them that it beats working for a living.
Readers don't give a toss if our job is difficult, and care less for reading about it. Quite rightly. Being paid to watch and report top-class sport is one of life's great privileges.
It is, to say the least, "interesting". But next year, the Beijing Olympics may become so in the context of the sinister legendary Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times".
My concerns about the difficulties of the hack's life were not allayed by China's response yesterday to criticism of its record on press freedom. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said: "The Chinese government and people sincerely welcome reporters from around the world to come to China and cover the Games in a fair and objective way."
This followed an open letter to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge from a journalists' rights group, Reporters Without Borders. They criticised Rogge's silence on abuse of journalists. Western perceptions of what constitutes "objective" journalism are unlikely to gel with China.
Qin said the Paris-based media group had "consistently attacked China". They have focused on the reluctance of politicians and police to allow domestic complaint to foreign media about lost land, corruption, and human rights issues.
Reuters cite a reporter being manhandled by security guards on Monday while attempting to talk to residents of a Beijing apartment block scheduled for demolition to make way for a security lane close to the Olympic stadium. Reporters Without Borders talk of foreign correspondents briefly detained and assaulted while investigating other sensitive topics.
Reporters Without Borders talk of foreign correspondents detained and assaulted while investigating sensitive topics
The Olympic movement remains confident China will deliver on its commitment to media freedom comparable with previous Games.
"The IOC believes in the good will of the Chinese to deliver the necessary environment for the 20,000 accredited media," they said in response to the letter, adding that the IOC believe the Games will be "a catalyst for constructive dialogue".
That is not the experience of Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong, the spiritual movement. They say Beijing Olympic organisers have a policy of banning their adherents from attending next year's Olympics, in contradiction of the country's constitution and Olympic Charter.
Last month, America's Associated Press reported Beijing's allegedly more tolerant religious policies "don't apply to Falun Gong" and only reassert "China's determination to marginalize, persecute and eradicate it."
Li Zhanjun, director of the Olympic media centre, says: "Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China, are forbidden . . . Foreigners who come to China must respect and abide by the laws of China."
That, lest there be any misunderstanding, includes journalists.
Yet branding Falun Gong "illegal" actually breaches articles 35 and 36 of China's constitution. It promises citizens "freedom of speech, the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration".
Article 36 promises "freedom of religious belief" and bans any state organ from "discriminating against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion".
Falun Dafa claim to have verified details of more than 63,000 instances of torture, and over 3000 deaths in custody. They believe the real figure for the latter to have exceeded 10,000.
A 2005 UN report says 66% of reported torture victims in China were Falun Gong adherents. In 2006 the same UN agency said "reports of arrest, detention, ill treatment, torture, sexual violence, deaths, and unfair trial of members may reflect a deliberate and institutionalised policy of the authorities to target specific groups."
So what is so dangerous about the group the atheist Communist rulers brand "a cult"? They believe in "Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance". Founder Li Hongzhi said in 1999: "We are not against the government now, nor will we be in the future. Other people may treat us badly, but we do not treat others badly, nor do we treat people as enemies."
Canadian broadcaster CBC, which needs Chinese cooperation to cover the Olympics, last month pulled a Falun Dafa documentary. It featured a contribution from Ian Johnston, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Falun Dafa.
Ours is a tough old game. But we won't write about it. Much.