With a month remaining before the Beijing Olympics, the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday praised the city’s preparations but also cited two “open issues” that remain: whether the city can deliver good air quality and fulfill promises to allow television networks to broadcast from non-Olympic sites.
“We think we’ve done everything,” said Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission, in a telephone interview. “But now we have to see in practice how it will work.”
Pollution and media access remain uncertainties as Beijing hustles to finish construction projects, plant flowers and get the city ready for the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies. On Tuesday, Beijing organizers christened the two state-of-the-art Olympic media centers that will house more than 20,000 journalists during the games.
The controversy over broadcast access began in March, after the authorities suppressed the violent Tibetan protests in western China. Beijing announced that networks would not be allowed to broadcast live from Tiananmen Square. The square is the symbolic center of Beijing and offers striking views of the Forbidden City. But it is also where Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy protesters in 1989 and is still a magnet for occasional protesters.
Verbruggen, who led a 12-member IOC delegation in Beijing this week, said the issue of broadcast rights from the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China and other “icon” destinations was discussed during meetings Monday and Tuesday with the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee.
“There will be a lot of opportunities to use all the icons,” Verbruggen said. He said networks would face restrictions on when they were permitted to televise from Tiananmen Square, but that local authorities had “granted it will be possible to film there.”
Last year, Beijing lifted certain domestic travel restrictions on foreign journalists as part of its Olympic pledge to allow more open media coverage. But foreign journalists have continued to experience sporadic interference, especially after the Tibet crisis. Foreign journalists are still blocked from traveling to certain Tibetan areas in western China. On Monday, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing China of failing to fulfill its promises on media freedom.
Now, television networks want assurances that Beijing will follow through on its pledges to allow live shots at non-Olympic venues. Last week, members of a German ZDF television crew said they were harassed by plainclothes and uniformed security officers as they tried to film live shots from the Great Wall of China — even though the crew had government approval. Security officers jumped in front of the cameras during live shots and some Chinese citizens interviewed by the crew were later questioned by authorities, according to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China.
Executives at some American television networks privately acknowledge problems securing broadcasting access in Beijing. Some stations that reserved locations for live shots later had their permissions revoked