Fiery confrontation with media

Jacquelin Magnay in Beijing
August 15, 2008

THE Beijing Olympic committee vice-president, Wang Wei, yesterday fired a fierce broadside at foreign media, saying China did not make any promises about media freedoms when it won the Olympic Games in 2001 and that the global press was nitpicking.

In a fiery news conference that erupted into mayhem yesterday, Mr Wang, who was the Beijing Olympic bid executive, angrily defended his country's hosting of the Games and the broader reforms the country had introduced.

It was a rare outburst by Mr Wang and matched the severe tone of the world's media, which has been frustrated by China's promises of media freedom while encountering continued internet censorship, internal blackouts on Chinese reporting, harassment, detention, obfuscation and, repeatedly, lies.

Mr Wang was prompted to make the comments after the International Olympic Committee's spokeswoman, Giselle Davies, refused to answer a question that was put to her five times by a persistent English journalist.

Ms Davies was asked: "Have China's human rights and the press freedoms issues, where they have repeatedly lied through their teeth, embarrassed the IOC?"

Mr Wang took the microphone: "During the bid I was secretary-general and I was confronted by many questions about the opening up and reform of China. I always said the Games will help China open up and reform faster.

"China is developing quickly. People enjoy more freedom and they have a lot to say. If you ask the ordinary Chinese on the street they will say the same

"We welcome the people and the colleagues of the Olympic Games with us and we welcome suggestions that are constructive advice from these people, all kinds of peoples. But the foreign press, you come here to pick, critically dig into details; but that doesn't mean we don't fulfil on our promises. I did not say China would promise to do whatever, I did say the Games would open up the horizons of China."

In 2001 the Herald was in Moscow and quoted Mr Wang saying, on the eve of the vote: "We are confident that the Games coming to China will not only promote our economy but also enhance all social conditions, including education, health and human rights. We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China."

On Wednesday night journalists were prevented from asking a Georgian judo gold medallist, Irakli Tsirekidze, about his thoughts for countrymen back home while his country was involved in intense military conflict with Russia. The chief of the judo media venue, Felicity Byrnes, said she was instructed by Beijing organisers to allow questions only that related specifically to sport.

Mr Wang said obstruction was in line with the Olympic charter because if there were questions about the Russia-Georgian issue, "it would start another debate about the Olympic spirit here".

The International Olympic Committee has complained to Chinese authorities about the rough treatment of two British journalists who were assaulted, and one detained, in the aftermath of a pro-Tibetan rally near the Olympic Green on Wednesday.

"According to my information, when the British journalist showed his accreditation he was released," Mr Wang said, contradicting footage that showed the ITV reporter John Ray identifying himself in vain as a journalist.

Yesterday there was no reporting in Chinese English-language papers, nor in Chinese, of the bus and van collision that killed two Chinese and involved people attending the Olympics, including an Australian doctor.

The president of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, said: "Normally you would think the organising committee would put out a release about what happened, detailing the health of the athletes. Many be things are done differently here."

with Mary-Anne Toy