07/10/2008, 00.00
CHINA - OLYMPICS
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Beijing toasts Olympic press centre, tightens censorship

Exactly one month before the games, on Tuesday, July 8, the largest press centre ever created for the games was inaugurated. But the record numbers conceal the government's fears: a reporter from Hong Kong has been denied entry, and there is controversy over "real time" coverage of the events.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Exactly one month before the Olympics, on Tuesday, July 8, the Olympic organising committee (Bocog) inaugurated its press centre, the largest one realised to date; at the same time, the Beijing government has clamped down further on the media, tightening controls on accredited journalists.

The 25,000 journalists who will follow the games will be able to use three spaces: the Main Press Centre and the futuristic International Broadcast Centre, for those who have been accredited, while the International Media Centre will be accessible to non-accredited journalists as well. Hein Verbruggen of the Olympic organising committee emphasises that the main press centre constitutes one of the "most significant and prestigious places of the entire Olympic zone": set up on three levels, it covers an area of 62,000 square metres, and can host more than 5,000 print journalists. Another 16,000 will work from the broadcast centre, while 3,000 will use the space provided for non-accredited journalists. The services available to the journalists include a restaurant open 24 hours a day, which can accommodate more than a thousand people, a gym, and a wellness centre, including a barber shop.

While Beijing is showing off the magnificence of the games, intimidations continue against press outlets that are not in step with the triumphalism flourished by the government and the Olympic committee: last week, Norman Choy, a journalist for the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, did not obtain press accreditation, and was denied entry into China. The organisers justified the decision saying that his journalistic identification card was no longer valid, because "it is possible to enter the country in view of the Olympics only beginning July 8". In addition to detaining the journalist for about 15 minutes and subjecting him to interrogation, the authorities also confiscated his reentry card "for reasons of national security". Apple Daily is famous for its critical position toward Beijing.

Finally, the dispute continues over the "real time" broadcast of the games: last March, the ceremony of lighting the Olympic torch in Athens was broadcast with a 10-second delay, allowing television stations to censor the protests of a group of activists from Reporters Without Borders. "During the games", assures Sun Weijia, media operations director for Bocog, "filming in every part of the city will be permitted", while his colleague Jiang Heping, director of the broadcast centre that will handle the coverage of the events, stresses that "there will be no 30-second delay in the live broadcast". But according to some sources, the government department for the advertising sector is believed to have ordered the television stations in the various provinces to delay live coverage by about 10 seconds to allow cuts or break-aways. The content to be censured includes politically motivated protests or racially charged statements on the part of athletes or spectators present at the events.

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