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Olympic organizers cut deal to censor Net access

A senior IOC official admits that committee members had cut a deal to let the Chinese government block sensitive Web sites, despite earlier assurances to the contrary.

Allowing journalists access to an uncensored Internet apparently isn't on the International Olympic Committee's list of things to do before the Beijing games begin next week.

A day after journalists learned their Internet activities would be limited, a senior IOC official admitted to Reuters on Wednesday that committee members had cut a deal to let the Chinese government block sensitive Web sites, despite promises of unrestricted access.

"I regret that it now appears BOCOG has announced that there will be limitations on Web site access during games time," IOC press chief Kevan Gosper told Reuters, referring to Beijing's Olympic organizers. "I also now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered games related."

The revelation came a day after journalists learned that organizers had backtracked on earlier guarantees that journalists would have access to an uncensored Internet at the Main Press Center and athletic venues. The announcement meant that thousands of reporters working in Beijing during the next several weeks won't have access to a multitude of sites deemed embarrassing to the Chinese government, such as Amnesty International or any sites related to the crackdown in Tibet or the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.

When Chinese officials were bidding for the right to hold the games seven years ago, they assured international organizers that there would be ''complete freedom to report.'' In April, Chinese organizers told International Olympic Committee members that Internet censorship, which is routine for China's citizens, would be lifted for journalists during the games.

However, IOC members issued a clarification Tuesday, saying that Internet freedom applied only to Web sites related to ''Olympic competitions.'' Some journalists expressed frustration at the slow download rates and even voiced suspicion that it was deliberate and intended to discourage use.

Media watchdog Reporters without Borders said it was increasingly concerned that journalists would face many cases of censorship during the Olympics.

"We condemn the IOC's failure to do anything about this, and we are more skeptical about its ability to ensure that the media are able to report freely," the group said in a statement.