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China: Going for the Gold in Press Tyranny

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

China: Going for the Gold in Press Tyranny

Article excerpt

Back in 2001, when China was awarded the right to stage next year's Summer Games, Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, assured foreign journalists that they would have complete freedom to do their work.

How's that working out, six years later? Ask Dan Griffiths, a correspondent with the BBC World Service.

A couple of weeks ago, he took a ride to a village about three hours south of Beijing to check out reports of protests against the local authorities. He was there for just a few minute before the police swooped in.

"The questions come thick and fast. What am I doing? Where have I come from? Who is my contact in the village?" he reported on the BBC's Web site.

"Over the course of the next few hours they will ask me this last question again and again."

Griffiths was pushed into a black car that appeared seemingly out of nowhere -- and taken to town hall. Police and municipal officials refused to give him their names while repeatedly asking what he was doing there. After a long period of interrogation, Griffith was driven out of town, and met by local representatives of China's foreign ministry. They act as if it's all been a huge mistake, and insist the journalist have dinner with the men who moments before had him effectively under arrest. In a coda to the incident that would not be out of place in one of John LeCarre's Cold War-era spy novels, Griffiths and his taxi driver discover that while they were eating, someone tampered with the car, removing several bolts that hold the wheels to the chassis.

Forced to wait by the side of the road that day, Griffiths asked one of the officials, "Is this how you will treat journalists when China hosts the Olympics?" "Oh, everything will be different then," came the reply.

Griffiths' experience is not unique, says the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its initials in French).

Just last week, two stringers for Agence France-Presse were detained for five hours when they tried to go to the same village, Shengyou, a symbol of rural unrest in China since 2005, when a gang employed by local Communist Party officials killed six people and injured scored others in a land dispute. …

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