Millions of viewers have watched an online sneak preview of the Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony thanks to South Korea’s SBS TV station — much to the irritation of the Chinese authorities, who are likely to become even more edgy about Internet access.
The country has already caused an uproar by declaring that it plans to maintain online censorship during the Olympics despite having promised free access, prompting U.S. legislators to pass a resolution urging China to change its ways.
The Opening Ceremony leak occurred after members of a Seoul Broadcasting System camera crew walked into the rehearsal at the Bird’s Nest stadium unchallenged on Monday and filmed the proceedings.
The footage, showing floating dancers, thousands of synchronized martial artists and blue whales, aired on SBS and quickly found its way onto various websites.
It was yanked from YouTube mid-morning on Thursday and blocked in China.
The Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (Bocog) was furious, saying that the filming was unauthorized.
“We are disappointed and frustrated with the broadcast by SBS,” Beijing Olympics Committee spokesman Sun Weide said on Thursday.
Details of the $300 million ceremony, directed by Zhang Yimou and featuring more than 10,000 performers, have been under wraps. Employees are required to sign confidentiality agreements, and massive security surrounds the stadium.
The ceremony will take place Aug. 8.
SBS spokesman Park Jae-man said: “The purpose of the broadcast was aimed at heightening enthusiasm toward the Beijing Olympics by showing South Korean viewers the magnificence of the Opening Ceremony. There was no other intention.”
The brouhaha comes after President George Bush said China had “nothing to fear” from Internet freedom.
Intl. Olympic Committee officials made a deal to let China block sensitive websites despite promises of unrestricted access, a senior IOC official admitted on Thursday.
Visiting journalists have complained that certain sites, including Amnesty Intl.’s, have been blocked.
The news is an embarrassment for the IOC, which had repeatedly said foreign press would not face Internet curbs in Beijing.
Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee spokesman Sun confirmed that foreign reporters would not have access to sites deemed sensitive by China’s communist rulers, adding, “We will provide sufficient access to the Internet for reporters.”
However, “sufficient access” falls well short of the complete Internet freedoms for foreign reporters that China had promised in the run-up to the Games.
Googling controversial terms in China, such as “Dalai Lama,” produces a “Page cannot be displayed” message.
Washington is ramping up the pressure on China to live up to Olympic ideals by ending human rights abuses.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 419 to 1 to endorse a resolution asking China to end rights abuses and its support for corrupt regimes.
Such action would “ensure that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games take place in an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness,” the resolution said.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)