China turns blind eye to Spielberg

Media focuses on Olympic athletes instead

BEIJING — China’s Olympic coverage on state broadcaster CCTV focused on athletes preparing for the games in August and neither the TV channel, which boasts an aud of one billion viewers, nor any other domestic media gave any space to Steven Spielberg’s decision to quit as artistic adviser to the 2008 games over China’s inaction on Darfur.

There was a deafening silence too from Beijing’s Olympic organizers (BOCOG), which met late into the night to discuss the US helmer’s decision. The initial reserve from Olympic organizers showed China is keen to limit any negative fallout and sources close to the organizers stressed that it was Spielberg’s personal decision to step down.

The absence of a free media to report an event which tarnishes the reputation of the Beijing games underlines the lack of free speech and media freedom in China that many of the human rights groups are trying to make ahead of the Olympics.

There is a view among ordinary people that Beijing has no monopoly on selling weapons to, and buying oil from, corrupt, evil regimes. They are quick to reject critical voices from the US, pointing to the Iraq war, detention without trial at Guantanamo and the practice of rendition, as examples of how America has lost the moral imperative in international affairs and should not be interfering in China’s business.

Not everyone backs the Olympics in China, but the vast majority of people are fiercely proud at what they see as a massive global celebration to mark their emergence onto the world stage.

Beijing has issued many warnings against politicising the Olympics, and statements in coming days are sure to reiterate this view.

Steven Spielberg is not an especially well-known figure in China, and his decision to take part in organizing the games probably did more to boost his profile in China than the entire Indiana Jones canon. Chinese star helmer Zhang Yimou, who is orchestrating the opening and closing ceremonies, is the real celebrity among the organizers, followed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who is acting as a consultant.

While local media were silent, there were online reactions to foreign media reports of his decision.

“I’m angry! Why connect sports and art with politics? Reality, democracy, human rights… what do they look like? Don’t bother with Sudan and China. Are you perfect, America? Do you have right to criticise other countries?” wrote a webizen whose name was given as “A man awake”.

Another webizen whose name was given as Alex said the Olympics were for the whole world.

“Mr. Spielberg did not understand the essence of the Olympic spirit. I didn’t get what his conscience has to do with the success or failure of the China Olympics. If the Chinese government has made mistakes in its Sudan policies, self-criticism is necessary. But this should not be mangled with the Olympics.”

Spielberg’s decision was widely welcomed by rights groups.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders – especially those planning to attend the Games – can’t pretend otherwise,” said Human Rights Watch spokesperson Minky Worden.

“These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Worden.

Matt Whitticase, spokesperson for Free Tibet Campaign, said China had shown “utter contempt” for the Olympic Charter since being awarded the games in 2001.

“(China) has instead presided over a worsening of human rights abuses in Tibet and China as well as insisting on underwriting genocide in Darfur.

Such contempt for the values of Olympism from the next host of the Olympic Games can no longer be ignored,” said Whitticase.

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