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Broadcasters free to go live from Beijing

Broadcasters will be able to transmit live by satellite from around Beijing and Tiananmen Square during next month's Olympics, the International Olympic Committee  said on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Chinese organizers, under pressure from global broadcasters and the IOC, apparently have lifted some restrictions on TV crews for the Beijing Olympics.

A meeting Wednesday — less than four weeks before the games open — was billed as the final face-to-face encounter among top IOC officials, broadcasters and Beijing organizers to resolve TV coverage away from sports venues.

Key issues included moving satellite trucks freely around the sprawling city, access to venues such as Tiananmen Square, frequency allocations and clear rules about filming.

“We welcome the confirmations given today by BOCOG to broadcasters that they will be able to report and broadcast via satellite from around the city,” International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

BOCOG is the acronym for the Beijing organizing committee.

The IOC said satellite trucks will be allowed to report live throughout Beijing and other co-host cities. It said “frequencies ... and licenses for all broadcasters — presented to date — will be approved.”

Live broadcasting from Tiananmen Square will be permitted, but on a restricted time schedule: 6-10 a.m. and 9-11 p.m. The iconic venue was the site of a bloody crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement.

“Whilst we understand there may be frustrations on the part of some broadcasters that they cannot transmit live around the clock from Tiananmen Square, we recognize that this iconic location is much in demand,” Davies said.

Right holders like NBC, which is paying hundreds of millions to broadcast these games, have been at loggerheads for months with China’s communist government, which fears TV cameras and 30,000 journalists will highlight protests by political or religious activists, or air interviews with athletes or dissidents speaking out against China’s policies in Tibet or Darfur.

Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, known as BOB, would not comment publicly, but privately officials were upbeat after the meeting. BOB is an IOC subsidiary and coordinates and provides technical services for the television networks with rights to broadcast the Olympics.

Col Southey, general manager of sport for Australia’s Seven Network, said a lot of “the hassles and obstructions” from a similar meeting in Beijing in late May seem to have disappeared.

“We believe good progress has been made since the last meeting, and we’re very confident,” Southey said. “The Seven Network has no doubt we will be able to cover the games as well as we always have.”

The meeting involved only rights holders. It was not entirely clear what effect it would have on non-rights holding broadcasters, which cover the Olympics — but only away from the venues.

“Nothing has changed yet, it’s still the run-around,” said Kevin Fleck, China manager for Sydney-based Global Vision Networks. The satellite service provider is offering services to Olympic sponsors, rights holders and non-rights holders.

“We can get approval from elevated locations where people don’t play a part in the picture,” Fleck added. “We’re still being told no satellite trucks on the streets. We’re still being told be can’t take trucks where we want on the street.”

Sandy MacIntyre, director of news for AP Television News, said he was relieved the log jam seemed to have been broken. APTN is the television arm of The Associated Press and a non-rights holder.

“We are pleased BOCOG is taking action to resolve outstanding issues and there has been some movement, but we do not yet have the licenses to operate satellite equipment which we need,” MacIntyre said. “However, we hope this is more about straightening out some misunderstandings in the process and remain hopeful we can have the vital licenses in our hands within days.”

Just last week, the German rights holder ZDF had a live interview on the Great Wall stopped when uniformed and plainclothes police barged in as a reporter was transmitting a show back to Germany. Several people who attended Wednesday’s meeting said high-ranking Chinese officials apologized for the incident.

Shaken by protests on international legs of the Olympic torch relay following the outbreak of deadly rioting in Tibet in March, China’s authoritarian government has hedged on promises to let reporters work as they have at previous Olympics.

A law enacted 18 months ago gave reporters freedom to move around the country, although Tibet has been off limits. The law has worked, although reporting remains a problem in the provinces.

Chinese officials repeatedly have been on the record promising journalists unfettered access.

“We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China,” Wang Wei promised in 2001 when he was heading Beijing’s bid for the games.

In recent months, the government has tightened visa rules, particularly targeting foreign students. The government fears many would side with activist groups if protests break out. On Tuesday, state-run broadcaster CCTV said it would carry live coverage without transmission delays. In China, even events billed as “live” are delayed to allowed unwanted scenes to be removed.

“We are broadcasting live,” Jiang Heping, who is heading CCTV’s coverage of the games, told the South China Morning Post newspaper. “But for emergencies, we have made plans. There are proposals to deal with it.”