Beijing Games: Sports coverage is good, other things may not be
The IOC says the Olympics are all about sports; no policy allowed. That will be the mantra, as always, when the Beijing Winter Games open six months from now.
Covering ski races or figure skating finals should be painless; stay in the sports bubble and avoid trouble. But journalists from other countries who puncture the skin of public relations to explore other aspects of life in China – as they did in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics – may attract more than criticism.
They could face harassment and threats if the performances were seen by the government – and the increasingly nationalist public – as portraying China in a negative light.
“China demands full respect for its position on a number of issues,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, who studies security issues in China at Stanford University, told The Associated Press.
“It requires that of governments, but also of businesses, media and individuals,” she said in an email. “So I think China is going to go after anyone, including sports journalists during the Olympics, who deviates from the ‘scenario? Yes, I absolutely think so.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly criticized the “politicization of sport” and declared that any Olympic boycott was “doomed to failure.” He did not specifically address journalism during the Games.
The danger to journalists was evident last week when foreign reporters covering flooding in central China were targeted. The Communist Youth League, a branch of the Chinese Communist Party, has asked social media subscribers to locate and report a BBC reporter on a mission. This has extended to broader charges against foreign journalists for “slandering” China with coverage that could be seen as critical rather than focusing on government rescue efforts.
In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said that “the rhetoric of organizations affiliated with the ruling Chinese Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and impedes freedom of reporting.”
The organization added that BBC and Los Angeles Times staff “have received death threats and intimidating messages and calls.” It came after China expelled more than a dozen American journalists last year working for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Beijing was the IOC’s unlikely choice for the 2022 Winter Olympics, a move made in 2015, mainly because European favorites like Oslo and Stockholm withdrew for financial or political reasons. The IOC ended up with only two candidates: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Beijing won by four votes, 44-40. The choice has drawn strong criticism from human rights groups, which continue.
The IOC has declined several recent requests to move the Olympic Games to Beijing. China is accused by some foreign governments and researchers of imposing forced labor, systematic birth control and torture on Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang, a region in the west of the country.
China has denied committing genocide against the Uyghur people, calling such accusations a “lie of the century.”
Last week, a vice president of Intel, one of the top 15 sponsors of the IOC, said he agreed with a US State Department assessment that China was committing genocide against the Uyghurs. and other minorities in Xinjiang. Other sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa, Procter & Gamble and Airbnb, appeared at a congressional hearing but did not answer most questions directly.
“It’s what I call the Olympics Catch-22 for illiberal regimes like China,” wrote Victor Cha, an Asian scholar at Georgetown University, in an email to AP. Cha studied sports politics in Asia and the 2008 Beijing Olympics in his book “Beyond the Final Score”. He also served from 2004 to 2007 in the Bush White House as director of Asian affairs on the National Security Council.
“They want all the glory and attention of hosting the world for the Winter Games, but they don’t want any of the inevitable criticism that comes with the media magnifying glass,” Cha said. “All hosts have to deal with this. COVID scrutiny ahead of Tokyo. The difference is how the hosts deal with it.”
The IOC says its goal is sport only, although it is a highly political body with an observer seat at the United Nations. IOC President Thomas Bach praised his efforts to bring the two Koreas together at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He also addressed world leaders in 2019 at a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
“Our responsibility is to organize the Games,” said Mark Adams, IOC spokesperson. “It is our responsibility. It is the responsibility of others – the United Nations, which have been very supportive of the Olympics, and governments this – and not for us.”
He added: “Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral. It’s clear.”
Adams was asked in an email whether the IOC was prepared to “condemn China’s policy of interning Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minorities.” He did not answer the question and referred to previous statements. in its remit, ”Adams wrote. “This includes the rights of journalists to cover the Olympic Games.”
The IOC included human rights requirements in the host city contract for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games several years ago, but it did not include these guidelines – the United Nations Guiding Principles on to business and human rights – for Beijing. Paris is the first Olympic Games to contain the standards, long advocated by human rights groups.
In countless interviews about China and its preparations for the Winter Olympics, Bach has not touched on the situation of the Uyghurs. He also did not say that it was a topic discussed at meetings of his board of directors.
The IOC, however, has been promoting press statements about Bach’s conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, although it has not disclosed the content.
China’s foreign minister, reacting to the BBC incident, essentially said the UK news agency had expected it.
“The BBC has a long history of ideological bias against China,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “He produced and broadcast fake news, spread false information on issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the COVID-19 outbreak to attack and discredit China. “
“The BBC has been reporting on China with tinted glasses for a long time, which has tarnished its reputation in China,” Zhao added.
Yaqiu Wang, a Chinese researcher for Human Rights Watch who grew up near Shanghai, said that “foreign media had strong credibility five or six years ago.” But she said the increase in Chinese state control of information does not allow the average Chinese person to have a fair assessment of what the Western press is saying about China.
Wang said the mood was very different from 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics. Many outside China hoped the Olympics would improve human rights, and some Chinese saw it as a time of optimism. Controls on foreign media have been relaxed in the run-up to the Olympics, which some have interpreted as a slackening on the political front after decades of “reform and opening up,” as China refers to its 40th anniversary. of economic reconfiguration.
“The hostility among the people is real, much more real than before,” Wang said. “That kind of hostility didn’t exist in 2008, but it does exist now. Among the average people, they know that speaking badly about the West or being hostile, they know it’s in your best interests to do so.
“If you go to a stadium, you’ll be fine if they feel like you’re covering something good,” Wang added. “But let’s say you talk to dissidents or someone who is the victim of some kind of abuse, you could be in a dangerous position.