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Tiananmen Square Media Blackout for Olympics

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 24, 2008

In the latest example of ham fisted public relations management by Beijing, the government reportedly plans to ban live film coverage from Tiananmen Square during the Olympics, leaving international broadcast companies including NBC without one of the city’s most photogenic backdrops. What’s next? Putting the kibosh on stand up commentaries from the Great Wall?

According to an Associated Press story carried by the New York Times, it seems the city elders are taking no chances during China’s big coming out party this August where protestors might take advantage of the media coverage to press their issues in front of the global media glare. The Beijing Olympic Committee declined to comment on the motives behind the move. I can’t say I’m surprised? During my own reporting of ambush marketing around the Olympics, the public relations committee indicated that the turnaround for official media queries could take several days at best.

But in a way, announcing the ban is a way of admitting that China’s overt and secret police do not have the security situation as firmly in hand as they would like. Clearly the repression of Tibetan protests that has caused dozens of deaths in Lhasa and perhaps elsewhere in the country has been extremely untimely for China during a year when it’s trying to show its best face to the world, but by forbidding foreign journalists from traveling to Tibet, it has gone back on its promise to give the media unfettered access to the country during the lead-up to the Olympics.

I wonder if the ban will be extended to video camera toting tourists and cellphone users too? While protesters may not be able to reach as broad an audience as they might from network coverage of Tiananmen, impromptu demonstrations will likely still find their way onto the net via Youtube or other user-generated content sites.

And it’s also worth pondering what kind of coverage other media will give to the announcement itself? If I were the head of a network, I might find it tempting to use the news as a peg to roll old footage of PLA tanks rolling down Chang ‘An Avenue on the eve of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 1989. Editors like nothing better than running stories about their own industry, especially when it involves attempts at media censorship.

Let’s hope that Beijing reconsiders its position. The attempt to clampdown could well backfire and become another public relations disaster for China which has already had its fair share of embarrassments during the leadup to the August Games. The decision by Steven Spielberg to withdraw his services as an artistic consultant to the organizers of the opening ceremonies in protest over the country’s role in Sudan was the a nasty snub for Beijing, as was the decision by Ethiopian world champion marathoner Gebresalassie to not compete because of health fears about pollution, despite Beijing’s promises that the city will be smog free by the time the Olympic torch arrives.

Reader Comments


March 24, 2008 10:26 AM

It really amused me that you western media seems so concerned about China,Anything happens that is related to China, You western media swoop in immediately and misrepresent it. CNN is a great example. Coincidently, BW happens to be an American company.
The way this writer wants might not work to China. Clearly there is a group of malicious people who want to take advantage of the chinese current situation. Tibetans are just a pawn for them to make China look bad in front of the world. Speaking of Sudan issue,I wonder how many countries buy oil from Sudan, it's not only China. At least, China didn't attack any other countries like what America did to Iraq to get an free access to oil.
"Clearly the repression of Tibetan protests that has caused dozens of deaths in Lhasa" Again, FYI, Dozens of deaths were done by those damn monks,They started riot, run around killing innocent people,set everything on fire. Chinese goverment sent army in there and hasn't opened fire yet.
Anyway, No matter what actions Chinese goverment is going to take about tibetan issue,sudan issue or media blackout,Chinese people always support them, We trust our government is doing a great job! To all those ill-wishers who try to seperate China, Don't even dream it!


March 24, 2008 12:08 PM

really shame on western media! get out of America and return the land to Indian!


March 24, 2008 1:49 PM

There is no need to dream this because the Chinese will inflict it on themselves. I am talking about the immense ecological problems that China will face in the not very distant future. With costs running in the hundreds of billions, dollars that is.

Greetings from Germany!


March 24, 2008 1:53 PM

I believe western media is taking dual criteria in reporting China issues. It is a prejudice.


March 24, 2008 2:53 PM

The chinese government are experts at covering up human rights abuse... and this person is a sheep who has been reading too much propaganda... you are the pawn! not the tibetan monks.. sit and watch while your military police commit coldblooded murder- it might be your mother next... just fall in line and keep your mouth shut!

J Pousson

March 24, 2008 3:15 PM

toobad, the ChiCom shill, is at it again.

With great delight and glee, I point out the fact that the riots are SPREADING, toobad, and now Sichuan province also has to have army troops to keep shooting at protestors.

Of course, liars like toobad will continue to spew total mistruths like the Dalai Lama is a terrorist, or that Tibetan Buddhism is some violent cult. Of course, the true Cult of Violence is the Communist Party of China, not the Tibetans.

toobad, so which tiny little state will you gravitate to once the Communist Party in China is overthrown and China fragments into multiple territories?

And you lie again, the PLA has been murdering left and right in Tibet. The monks protest peacefully, and the PLA shoots them in the head. Sort of like Falun Gong, a peaceful group who do nothing but exercise, and the ChiCom government lies and paints them like some huge threat to their existence.

Chinese Communists are liars. The only good Chinese live on Taiwan, and the Taiwanese are going to clean the clocks of the mainlanders when the Butchering Bastiges in Beijing order their troops across the straits. Then, with a hideous loss of face in a military defeat to the Taiwanese, after the failure of the Beijing Olympics, the ChiComs will be dragged from their palaces and the Chinese people will dispense the justice the ChiComs have had coming since 1932.


March 24, 2008 3:25 PM

This past Tibet event really make people doubt how fairly the western media is reporting any news related to China. I advocate to create a websit to rank the major news media in their fairness. CNN is definitely on the bottom for cooking fake pictures. BW is not any better, for chanting for the peaceful protest and totally igoring the pain of Chinese victim. NYT gives the best example. Today it publish an article for some prominent Chinese scholar protesting Chinese Tibet policy, except, it does not mention these scholars are oversea dissents and had long lost the interest of Chinese public. This type of letter is wrote purely for NYT or other news paper whenever there is something about China comes up, good or bad. Come on, you call it news.


March 24, 2008 4:21 PM

When is the world going to start calling China on its double standards? First of all Human Rights are not a political issue, they are a shared universal value in the 21st century, especially if you want to trade and prosper with the rest of the world. 2) China always penalizes trade partners for political objectives (e.g. Taiwan, Tibet), yet when the international community is dealing with China, China proclaims strongly that politics must be decoupled from politics/olympics. The Olympics are about Universal sportmanship and universal human rights to sportsmanship. Hello Blind Hypocritical Kumbaya International Community. Open your eyes before Communist China puts your lights out permanently in your blindness!


March 24, 2008 4:35 PM

What a funny Olympics this is gonna be. Every vistor, athelete and journalist will be accompanied by 5 PLA members to prevent them from snooping around and visiting unwanted areas. The PLA is going to throw a cordon of 2 million soldiers around Beijing to prevent people from geting into or out of the city.


March 24, 2008 8:01 PM

Very good comments! Support Chinese government!


March 24, 2008 8:21 PM

I still pity on any Chinese who blindly bow down before their authoritarian regime . The allegation that monks incited the riots in tibet, better watch out for the bad intention orchestrated by the red chinese themselves to find an alibi to crack down Tibetans even before anything happens. If any common Chinese are remotely intellectual, dig little deeper the grave yard back home and you will find the truth behind your governments hidden treasure of lies and brutality.


March 24, 2008 10:33 PM

You must understand now why China is denying access to Western media into areas of unrest. Western media does not know how to report fair and balanced news. Now they cannot stomach the idea that they are not welcome in these areas due to their excesses. They probably picked up their reports from what they hear while relaxing at their favorite watering hole and try to please their editors by sending reports that correspond with their agendas.


March 24, 2008 10:38 PM

You must understand now why China is denying access to Western media into areas of unrest. Western media does not know how to report fair and balanced news. Now they cannot stomach the idea that they are not welcome in these areas due to their excesses. They probably picked up their reports from what they hear while relaxing at their favorite watering hole and try to please their editors by sending reports that correspond with their agendas.


March 24, 2008 10:53 PM

Frederik Balfour, just judging from what you have been carrying the Tibet story and this crassly inaccurate writing, it will be more than proper to put a ban on you for any China related report.

"Clearly the repression of Tibetan protests that has caused dozens of deaths in Lhasa"?

Repression=Lawful protection of lives and properties?

Tibetan protects=Mobs setting fire, killing innocents, and looming private and public properties?

Death of whom?

"decision by Steven Spielberg to withdraw his services as a creative director of the opening ceremonies"?

Spielberg never even signed any contract with anyone in China. Drew from what?

"creative director"=Artistic Consultant?

You are just outrageious.


March 25, 2008 2:25 AM

Western media spoils it for itself. After this I will no longer visit the businessweek newssite because it is full of LIES, LIES and more LIES. I also no longer watch CNN and BBC. I only watch CCTV and read Chinese news sites ONLY from now on.

World Media has Selective memory

March 25, 2008 2:49 AM

The world media has a selective memory. Fact: Tibet belongs to China.


March 25, 2008 4:12 AM

@J Pousson,Drop the act,stop pretending you are Mr.Justice with some sort of moralities. You are just one pathetic victim who is fooled by western media. Why don't you go dig out the truth yourself before you rant your little statement?
By the way, What are you americans doing in Iraq? As per the latest statistic, 660000 Iraqi residents died during the 5years's Iraq war. Who is responsible for the deaths? Some just couldn't wait to send their troops in Tibet.


March 25, 2008 8:36 AM

"shoot monks in the head"??
whoever said that LOL read that article on nytimes about china's failed police work and how all the cops ran away the first 24hrs or so. and even if they did head shot'em, wat u think a average cop on.. fifth ave will do when You broke into the Disney store starts to hit kids with rock n buring crap. the cops gonna point a gun in your face and when u threw the burning princess toy u get a lead salad. ppl broke the law and the cops took action.

and to thess hard core china-is-so-perfect people, cmon be fair china didnt do The perfect job on the riot can't blame news media for reporting it.. infact CCTV only play clips from the first day and not the rest, wat u call that? and since Chinese gov got nothing to hide y they block media?

is all stupid and u ain't gonna change a thing so chill out


March 25, 2008 9:34 AM

Seems the Chinese propaganda machine is going to town with these comments...

Who said hegemony was US centric?


March 25, 2008 9:38 AM

To take the other side for a moment, it's true, the US have also become experts at covering up human rights abuse... and yes, this slaughter of monks is no more justified than US slaughter of "civilians" in Iraq..

the way things are today in the sensational media, you really never know the truth unless you're there yourself.. so, next best option is to take ALL governmental/corporate media sources as "entertainment" and watch the blogs for the real news...

to quote the author "impromptu demonstrations will likely still find their way onto the net via Youtube or other user-generated content sites."
lucky we at least have that information source, "E.T. phone home" so we get the scoop direct...

you CAN change things... its this "you wont change it-so chill out" attitude that really scares me.. that sounds like someone who goes through life scared and powerless...


March 25, 2008 10:33 AM

i'm a China citizen and a college teacher, also a senior reader of some western websites. for many issues, the articles from these resourses are professional and deep, very useful for my teaching. however, once involving the national, political, human rights and ehtics issues of China, i really don't agree with them, objectively, China has its own history and develop roadline, something and some fields are different to the weaterns. speaking of the democracy, personally, i think our nation need a powerful goverment for the current time, for we're not so powerful and the whole people's quality not high enough to practice overall democracy. the just past Tibet riots, from the vidios, every right-minded individual must say it's not the wrong of China's goverment,--of course there must be some deeper level's problems related to Tibet. indeed, we believe China's goverment is becoming more and more democratic-form & content, as well as our nation more powerful and prosperous. welcome friends worldwide to China, but shut up your mouth if you do not know China.


March 26, 2008 2:07 AM

Hahaha, Mr. Balfour is angry because now his plan to ruin the games by staging protest in Tiananmen has been thwarted by Chinese government.

Actually Mr. Balfour should thank the government. The ban is to protect Mr. Balfour from getting his butt kicked by angry Chinese mobs for trying to ruin our party.


March 26, 2008 6:06 AM

@Andy, People are entitled to free speech. Some westerners are just fooled by those medias. What we need to do is to reason them and convince them with the truths. Watch your tongue! Otherwise,I will kick your ass.


March 27, 2008 12:14 AM

The Chinese government will have the support of the Chinese people. Just deal with it.


April 2, 2008 2:25 AM

wow! this is the first time i have read the comments beneath a china story! the chinese really are up in arms, aren't they? so, what is the chinese equivalent of KGB?

These coments are vey like what we heard the Soviets say about west.... & we all know how that turned out.... There are a lot of reasons for a state to roll out the military but how many believe tanks will be seen in times square or Trafalgar square anytime soon? We all know which side has a higher moral ground, & which governments are elected by people. A government that does not fear dissent does not censor the net. & Mei, thats exactly what people said about USSR.

Actually the reark Mei has made is more troublng than it looks. "ALWAYS" means "irrespective of what atrocities they perpetrate". Is Mei a dissenter in supporter's clothing?


April 10, 2008 5:03 PM

To the pro-Chinese Chinese in San Francisco who are angry with the protesters: if you are so proud of China, why are you living in the US instead of China? May be it has something to do with freedom and liberties, which are what protesters are fighting for.


April 23, 2008 10:05 AM

Wow, from the previous commemnts I have red, I am very interested in the fact that any Chinese, whether or not they have ever been in China, is automatically labeled as a Communist loving, brainwashed, and stupid pig.
Please people.... read about history, U.S. history, Chinese history, Tibetan history, and then come and tell others what should happen. The 2 seconds TV versions of history they give on CNN and other news stations are pushed in when it helps with the agenda they have. Go and watch CNN showing films from India of the Tibetan protesters and India police and then announcing that Chinese is cracking down violently in Lhasa that this was proof of the many human rights violations- please if that is not propaganda, I don't know what would be.
As for Jayesh' s comment about higher moral ground- take U.S. horrible treatment of Native Americans (reservations, 1st Wounded Knee), the Palmer and McCarthy raids, the Abu Ghraib prison incidents, Guantanamo Bay, Japanese internment camps, the previous treatment of African Americans with murder and lynchings-is that taking the higher moral ground- suspending the rights of all other races in America at various times in history- freedom of speech, rights to a fair trial, rights to have due process under law, the right to vote, and so many other things.
When I read that, I chuckled, please I'm American, but I simply have been well educated enough to realized that everything in the world is not black and white. I simply do not take what the media is trying to spoon feed, brainwashed and convince gullible people what is really happening around the world blindly. So do you know how many Iraqi civilians-women and children- have been killed since the U.S.'s invasion? What about Dalai Lama? Who knew how he acutally came to power in the first place? How about Tibet's previous theocracy with 90 percent of Tibetans serving under these peaceloving monks as slaves?
As I previously said, please learn about history before shouting out such stupid statements.

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