In exactly seven days, the world's biggest sporting event will begin its run in Beijing, China.
Aug. 8, 2008, marks an auspicious day for the world's most populous nation as it will finally be able to showcase the efforts and resources it has invested over the past seven years since winning the bid as Olympics host, to transform the capital city into one that boasts gleaming new architectural icons such as the National Grand Theater and Central Chinese Television headquarters.
The government also ran a pre-Olympic campaign urging its citizens to mind their manners, where paper spit bags were distributed to remind the locals to avoid spitting on the ground, and prepare to warmly welcome foreigners to the country.
But, it seems the Chinese government has been preoccupied with other items on its to-do list, in the days leading up to the Olympics.
According to a CNN report, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback has accused the Chinese government of ordering foreign-owned hotels to install software and hardware that will allow the authorities to spy on guests' Internet activities during the Games. Brownback says journalists, athletes, tourists and activists, will be among those who will be subjected to invasive intelligence gathering.
CNN also reported that Internet access will be censored during the Olympics, where sites featuring subjects considered taboo in the eyes of the Chinese government, specifically political and human rights issues, will be blocked from public viewing. Sites such as Amnesty International or those carrying news about Tibet, will unlikely be accessible at the main press center, where some 5,000 print journalists will be housed during the Games.
If true, and it's likely to be--given China's record on censorship--this move would mean that the Chinese government has backpedaled on the pledge it gave--in bidding for the event in 2001--that the global media will have "complete freedom" to report and that Internet censorship will be lifted for journalists during the Games.
As expected, the international media community is crying foul over the invasion of privacy and censorship. As a journalist myself, I share the same contempt and outrage over China's attempts to silence the press. However, I fail to understand why journalists covering the Olympics will need information on the Tibet riots and China's human rights history to churn reports on a sporting event. Unless, perhaps, an Olympics contender says he came in last in his event because he was distracted and too distraught over the country's human rights violation. But, that's highly unlikely to happen.
The International Olympic Committee has said it will not interfere in politics, arguing that the Games should be a platform for discussions on sports and not as a channel to push political agendas.
I couldn't agree more. There's a place and time for everything and the Olympics just isn't the right place to hold political debates.
Besides, some of China's harshest critics might want to first look at their own state of affairs before accusing another of invading their right to privacy. U.S. search giant Google this week declared that absolute privacy "does not exist...in 21st century United States", where satellite technology is so pervasive.
I've also read news reports that use "Singapore" and "dictatorship" in the same sentence, passing it off as a fact rather than an opinion. Needless to say, it's an appalling reflection of what journalism shouldn't be. But then again, I probably shouldn't expect any less--or rather, more--from writers who live in a country where a portion of its population still think Singapore is part of China.
Lest we forget, George W. Bush did say on Jun. 26 this year: "Oftentimes I'm asked: Why? Why do you care what happens outside of America?" Errrh, so you would know where Singapore is?
Yep, that's the very same guy who said this in May 2007: "Information is moving--you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogsophere and through the Internets." Oooooh, blogsophere...big word, that.
And of course, who can forget this Bush classic from Sep. 17, 2002: "There's an old saying in Tennessee--I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee--that says, fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me--you can't get fooled again." Classic, a true classic.
So, America, how does it feel to be on the receiving end?