Journalists get shake down from police and hotels

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Thursday:
You are more likely to be frisked by security forces in downtown Beijing this week than last.

Following the murder of an American tourist, Todd Bachman, while visiting the Drum Tower monument in the city centre on Saturday (some reports suggest that he and his local guide were attacked with a machete), body searching is increasing.

“Fruit knives longer than 8cm will be confiscated and visitors carrying large packages will be stopped for checks,” said a police officer at the Temple of Heaven. Helium balloons and flying kites are off the agenda as well, and aviation clubs have been put on hold for the duration of the Games.

â–¡ This does not explain the armoured personnel carrier parked outside the MPC on Tuesday, the armed soliders at check-in points, nor the arrest and “roughing up” of ITV News reporter John Ray yesterday when he was covering a Free Tibet demonstration at Olympic Green.

Ray, who sustained minor injuries during the scuffle, said he was set upon by four or five officers, pinned down by police, dragged along the ground, then pushed into a police van and detained for about 20 minutes.

The China correspondent for ITV News, said that his press accreditation was in his pocket but the authorities would not allow him to access it during the fracas.

Ray was able to speak to a colleague briefly on a mobile phone when in the back of the police van. Ray said: “I have been roughed up. They dragged me, pulled me and knocked me to the ground. Now they are filming me.”

An exchange with the police officers could then be heard with Ray saying: “I am a British journalist. I have all the Olympic accreditation I need.”

Officers then asked: “What’s your opinion on Tibet?” Ray replied: “I have no opinion on Tibet. I am a journalist.” He was then told to switch off his phone. ITN, Ray’s employers, and the British Embassy have both filed official complaints.

Spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said the IOC was checking into what happened. “The IOC’s position is clear: the media must be free to report on the Olympic Games.”

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Blue skies 2, Smog 10 – although this includes more heavy rain, with electrical storms fierce enough at the rowing venue that all racing was postponed until tomorrow, and cause lengthy delays at the sailing regatta.

â–¡ There was an Olympic wake for our departed colleague Steve Parry last night. Paul Radford, Parry’s successor as sports editor at Reuters, left Beijing today to be present at the funeral in Amersham tomorrow. Radford expects to be back at his desk in the MPC on Sunday.

â–¡ Former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport, of the United States – she pulled out of the London Grand Slam this year because of injury – is not in the Olympic singles in Beijing. But as one of the dozen or so mothers competing in the Olympics, she still has a target. She has a one-year-old daughter and is challenging in the doubles.

â–¡ The legitimised scalping of visitors to an Olympic city – including us journalists – continues. Further to our note yesterday about the £300 charge for internet access, another SJA member, Michael Butcher, has been in touch to point out that the exorbitant fee can only be paid by Visa card. Visa is an Olympic sponsor.

But reports suggest that many potential Olympic tourists are staying away from Beijing because of the sky-high prices. Around 20 per cent of the city’s hotel rooms remain empty, possibly because the room rate at a typical hotel, such as the Jingling Hotel, normally costing $250 per night, is $850 a night during the Games.

Let’s hope London 2012’s sponsors BT can do something about providing free internet access for journalists in four years’ time, and that LOCOG ensure that hotels are not allowed to make excessive profits during the Games.

â–¡ Despite the costs, and previous reports of swathes of empty seats at Olympic venues, a sign of rampant capitalism in this crucible of Communism has been spotted. Ticket touts have arrived in Beijing and are boasting of a roaring trade for seats at the Bird’s Nest stadium for Saturday’s men’s 100 metres final.

And where do these touts come from? London, of course.

â–¡ Further to our notes yesterday about the BBC’s coverage, it seems “the Olympic Channel” is being criticised by SJA members both here and in Britain. Randall Northam, watching the TV coverage at home in Worcester, has used his own blog to accuse the BBC of “lazy reporting”.

The Daily Mail‘s Charlie Sale, busy in the MPC, is still shocked by the number of staff the BBC has here. In today’s paper, he writes, “The first question in the Michael Phelps press conference after the American’s record gold-medal exploits in the pool yesterday came, reasonably enough, from a BBC News man.

“This was followed, ridiculously, by a question from Children’s BBC, demonstrating yet again how overstaffed the Beeb are in Beijing.”

Click here to read: Murrays bow out of Beijing in all-too-quick time

Click here to read: Pooley shows she is no lightweight in medal stakes

Click here to read: Lonsbrough quick off the blocks in gold run

Click here to read previous blog entries from Barry Newcombe in Beijing

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