The organising committee for next year’s Beijing Olympic Games has released a hefty guide to foreign journalists, yet it has so far made no provision for the thousands of visitors – equipped with DV cameras, photo-phones, Blackberry devices and laptops – who will want to report events – sporting and non-sporting – on their blogs, or send images to citizen-journalism agencies.
The sheer number of citizen journalists that could descend on Beijing – and with MMS and SMS platforms providing an alternative avenue of publishing – has led some to believe that controlling them could be beyond the notoriously long arms of China’s media authorities.
“It’s uncontrollable,” said Kyle McRae, founder of Scoopt.com. “Partly because the technology is there, and partly because people want to do this. Fundamentally, with an internet connection people can send content; you can’t control this information. The Chinese authorities will try, but they won’t succeed.”
Despite a great wealth of participants, the Chinese blogging community is one of the most locked down in the world, forbidden from generating their own news or commentary, and supposed only to reproduce censor-approved material that has passed through China’s state-controlled media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates there are at least 29 journalists imprisoned in China – of these, 19 are internet writers.
China is an authoritative system used to dealing with a large volume of internet traffic. As a result, the explosion of citizen journalism expected from foreign nationals visiting China could be stymied.
“I would be careful with the suggestion that they can’t control it,” Hidde Kross, of Dutch citizen journalism site Skoeps.com told Journalism.co.uk.
“Don’t underestimate their brilliance in sorting out what’s published on the internet. They have the finest brains in the world to work on content publishing, as well as filtering technologies.”
The hunger for a slice of China’s 137m-strong internet market among large media companies could prove another decisive factor in their handling of Olympic coverage, and recent decisions by Google and Yahoo! either to filter content or hand over information have revealed a willingness not to upset the Chinese authorities.
Yet, McRae remains confident of what citizen journalism could achieve at the Beijing Games, propelled by those very restrictions on mainstream media outlets.
“They may actually turn to punters who are around taking pictures and filing reports,” he added.
“Maybe citizen journalism will come into its own, because it’s so unstoppable.”
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