- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2008



With such global brands as Visa, Volkswagen, General Electric and Samsung aiming at profits from sponsoring the Beijing Olympics in August, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee has firmly instructed visitors to the games on what they are not allowed to bring with them to the People’s Republic of China. Forbidden is “anything detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture or moral standards - including printed material [like this column] film negatives, photos, records, movies, tape recordings, videotapes, optical discs and other items.” A June 11 editorial in The Washington Times adds that “visitors with mental illnesses and sexually transmitted diseases will be barred from the country. Such mental illness presumably will include being a nut about freedom.

Also banned are political or religious banners; and the only permitted demonstrations, rallies or marches must have prior approval from authorities in this ceaselessly suspicious communist dictatorship. Functioning as a mirror image of China’s Great Censorship Wall is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), an official of which has enthusiastically declared that the internationally televised games will be “a force for good” inside China, burnishing the patriotic pride of its people. The IOC has warned all the athletes not to offend the host.

Some of China’s people, however, may wind up in Chinese gulags after the Olympics if visiting journalists do not pay close attention to the advice given them by Kathleen McLaughlin, who reports on China for the Bureau of National Affairs and also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.

“Read up,” she counsels, “on which topics … the Chinese government considers most sensitive.” And if journalists do tread onto that sensitivity minefield in the stories they send home, they should be “mindful of placing Chinese citizens (translators, assistants …) in any danger.”

These assistants to foreign journalists “are the most vulnerable people in this equation. Most foreign journalists will go home after the Olympics, but the Chinese citizens who assist you with language and logistics need to be protected from any possible repercussions … [T]his is not a free country,” Miss McLaughlin said.

But, how will NBC - which paid around $900 million for the high privilege of American rights to broadcast China’s glorification of itself through the Olympics - protect any of its Chinese helpers after the medals are awarded? Will NBC and its sister, MSNBC, send reporters to document the punishments given to the Chinese citizens who provided the skills to insure the smooth functioning of TV coverage and its expensive advertisements? Unlikely, wouldn’t you say?

As the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, of which I’m a member, emphasizes: There is also danger for Chinese journalists reporting on, let us say, any banned protests during the games. They “must abide by an even stricter code than the one governing foreign correspondents - and run the risk of being jailed for months or even years when they break the regulations.”

The IOC, which chose this ruthless enemy of press freedoms to be host of the games, has extended the Chinese Politburo’s gag rule to the athletes from all countries participating by reminding them in particular that the IOC itself has a rule that “no kind of demonstration, or religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or areas.”

Those of you watching at home are of course free to raise a glass to salute a form of courage, beyond athletic daring, by honoring imprisoned Yang Chunlin, who was campaigning for compensation for peasant farmers whose land has been confiscated by the Chinese government. Increasing his present 3-and-a-half-year sentence in March was his choice of a slogan for his campaign: “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics.”

If it doesn’t discomfort you too much as you enjoy the games on NBC, give a cheer occasionally to Chunlin and other caged Chinese competitors in the decathlon of freedom.

You also might want to shed a tear for NBC, which - the June 4 New York Post reported - is “anywhere from $150 million to $300 million shy of its sales target. … The network aims to pull in $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in Olympic ad sales. … Ad execs say the pro-Tibet protests against China are weighing on the Olympics, despite NBC’s assertions to the contrary.” Don’t you feel for NBC?

But the world will be watching, and I hope to see whether French athletes will succeed in their plan to wear - despite China and the International Olympics Committee - a badge with just the slogan “For a Better World.” That could, however, be regarded as a thought crime by the host and the by now thoroughly disgraced IOC.

A youngster in a village in eastern China, Chen Yun, training to compete in weightlifting as her school’s principal and its government-assigned “propaganda director” monitor her, tells Time magazine (June 23) she wants to be a star athlete and “make China proud.” But history books, not in China, will still call this “The Genocide Olympics” as China’s business partner, Sudan, keeps staining it with the mark of Darfur - where arms are supplied by China.

Nat Hentoff’s column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.

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