China: No live TV from Tiananmen for Olympics
By Charles Hutzler
The Associated Press
BEIJING — Don’t expect to turn on your TV during the Beijing Olympics and see live shots of Tiananmen Square, where Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy protests nearly two decades ago.
Apparently unnerved by recent unrest among Tibetans and fearful of protests in the heart of the capital, China has told broadcast officials it will bar live television shots from the vast square during the Games.
A ban on live broadcasts would disrupt the plans of NBC and other major international networks, who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast the Aug. 8-24 Games and are counting on eye-pleasing live shots from the iconic square.
The rethinking of Beijing’s earlier promise to broadcasters comes as the government has poured troops into Tibetan areas wracked by anti-government protests this month and stepped up security in cities, airports and entertainment venues far from the unrest.
In another sign of the government’s unease, 400 American Boy Scouts who had been promised they could go onto the field after an exhibition game last Saturday between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were prevented from doing so by police.
“It was never specifically mentioned to me it was because of Tibet that there were extra controls, but there were all these changes at the last minute,” said a person involved in the Major League Baseball event.
The communist government’s heavy-handed measures run the risk of undermining Beijing’s pledge to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the Games would promote greater openness in what a generation ago was still an isolated China. If still in place by the Games, they could alienate the expected half-million foreigners.
Like the Olympics, live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square were meant to showcase a friendly, confident China — one that had put behind it the deadly 1989 military assault on democracy demonstrators in the vast plaza that remains a defining image for many foreigners.
“Tiananmen is the face of China, the face of Beijing, so many broadcasters would like to do live or recorded coverage of the square,” said Yosuke Fujiwara, the head of broadcast relations for the Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co., or BOB, a joint venture between Beijing Olympic organizers and an IOC subsidiary. BOB coordinates and provides technical services for the TV networks with rights to broadcast the Olympics, such as NBC.
Earlier this week, however, officials with the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, or BOCOG, told executives at BOB that the live shots were canceled, according to three people familiar with the matter.
If the decision stands, it would be a blow to the TV networks whose money to buy the rights to broadcast the Games accounts for more than half the IOC’s revenues. The biggest spender is NBC. It paid $2.3 billion for the rights for three Olympics from 2004 to 2008 — Athens, Turin and Beijing.
BOCOG officials began signaling discomfort with live broadcasts in Tiananmen Square a year ago, but discussions went back and forth, according to those involved. The square has been a magnet for protests for decades.