August 4, 2008

Aug. 8, 2007, Summer Olympics celebration at Tiananmen Gate. (Courtesy Agence France-Presse)

Online Censorship Poses Olympic Challenge for Journalists

As the eyes of the world turn to China for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, concerns about the government’s limits on freedom of the press are squarely in the spotlight.

In the months leading up to the start of the summer games, Chinese authorities promised to lift many of its restrictions that foreign journalists normally face in the communist country. Early indications, though, have proved that China has not kept its word.

Foreign reporters have been banned from visiting certain locations, including the exiled nation of Tibet, which has been fighting for independence while remaining under China’s control. TV networks covering the Olympics have been told that live images from Tiananmen Square — site of the student uprising in 1989 that resulted in a bloody crackdown — are limited.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee and the Chinese government announced that reporters covering the Olympics would be blocked from accessing Internet sites deemed politically sensitive.

For citizens and journalists in China, Internet censorship is nothing new.

China’s online censorship system — dubbed the "Great Firewall of China" — restricts what can be published online and what types of news and information citizens can receive. To insulate its citizens from controversial topics, government censors control content in the Chinese press and block access to many news and information Web sites.

For instance, a Chinese citizen searching online for controversial political terms or events, such as the Tiananmen Square uprising or Tibet’s exiled government, will likely receive "site not found" or error messages.

Some journalists and activists, called cyberdissidents, have found ways to circumvent Chinese censorship through proxy servers and encrypted channels. But the risk is great. China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The story of Chinese cybercensorhip is available in the Digital News section of the Newseum’s Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery.

Visitors can go behind the scenes with a Newseum staffer for a series of in-depth Gallery Talks Gallery Talks about China, the Olympics and the press.

For more information on the history of press coverage of the Summer Olympics, visit a special exhibit in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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