Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Turner Games '08: Day One

This week, the junior staff at TR Central will be round-robin posting on the Olympic Games that are set to kick off on Friday. With the whole world watching, the Beijing Olympics will be an intersection for the most relevant cultural, political and environmental questions the entire world faces as of 2008.

We need more than one day to cover it all, folks.

China's Moment

But if the 2008 Beijing Olympics are indeed “China’s Moment,” then the rest of the world should be mindful that it’s their time to stand up and be counted, too.

Many from the international press have already shown unease with the restrictions in internet access being laid down by the Chinese government. While the International Olympics Committee has negotiated to see that some of the banned sites are accessible, it is only a partial victory that will still allow for noticeable restrictions on online content. Already it is being eclipsed by news of police assaults on Japanese journalists. The worldwide media should not walk on eggshells when they talk about these games if they feel that fundamental rights of speech are being violated.

Ellen Lee penned a great piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on how powerful Web 2.0 has been for critics of the Chinese government in recent years. In many ways it’s as big a part of modern day China as the rich cultural landscape that we’ll witness at Friday’s opening ceremonies. The fact that the press will be denied their perspective on the Games makes for an uncomfortable hole in a true understanding of the political atmosphere surrounding the multi-billion dollar endeavor. Chinese youth are being denied an avenue to talk to the international press on what it's like to live with some of the policies that have been adopted for the Olympics.

The Chinese blogosphere’s view of the Games as a costly and ultimately empty gesture may be recognized by the western press beforehand, but also stands a good chance of being muzzled once the festivities have gotten underway.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the Olympics will be tech-savvy in just about every other way this year. YouTube has set up a channel where the games will be broadcasted in 77 territories throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. NBC has scheduled 2,000 hours of live video coverage and 3,000 hours of on-demand video through its website. Bloggers are crawling all over Beijing, offering countless insights into the atmosphere of the Games.

But diversity of the coverage will continue to be the elephant in the room.

Daniel Scheschkewitz of the German paper Deutsche Welle put it best in his editorial:
China has invited the world for the Olympic Games. But the doors remain closed for the global spectrum of opinions -- not only in the country but also in those places where journalists are supposed to make use of their right to unhindered access to information: in press centers and Beijing's large hotels. To accept this Chinese censorship is misconceived tolerance. The West loses its credibility. China will feel vindicated and continue to let no one dictate to it about human rights.
Around the world a free press can mean the difference between life and death. If it can’t be upheld at the Olympics -- the pinnacle of joyous and peaceful interaction between countries -- it may also fail us in the most urgent of circumstances.

-- Neal Fersko

Up Next: Turner Games '08: Day Two -- Seeing Through the Haze