Pregame problems may spill over to Beijing Olympics

Seven weeks before the Olympics are scheduled to open, TV broadcasters are still fighting with Chinese organizers over broadcast rights. Last week, a top European broadcast official warned that the trouble may carry over into coverage of the Games.

The issues involve moving satellite trucks throughout Beijing, deploying equipment and establishing clear rules about what pictures TV cameras will be allowed to show. Broadcasters still do not know, for example, if they will be allowed to transmit live from Tiananmen Square.

It appears that China’s communist government fears that roving TV cameras and 30,000 journalists might show protests by political, ethnic or religious dissidents or athletes and activists speaking out against China’s policies in Tibet or Darfur, the Associated Press reported.

“What’s going on now might be an indication of what could happen during the games,” Fernando Pardo, head of sports for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), told the AP. “If this happens during the games, the reaction of broadcasters could be unpredictable.”

Assurances to the contrary, Pardo, who has covered every Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games, said he has seen only limited progress since emergency meetings at the end of May in Beijing between broadcasters and top organizing officials. “There are dark clouds on the horizon,” Pardo warned.

This week is critical as broadcasters begin moving operations to Beijing, Pardo said. Broadcasters, he warned, could seek financial compensation from the local organizing committee if promises of the Chinese are not met.

“If by any chance when we are there in the Olympics working and we cannot work freely and get services we need, this is the moment when we can ask for compensation,” Pardo told the AP.

Beijing Olympic organizing officials have repeatedly promised that TV personnel and reporters will be free to do their jobs and cover the Olympics as they have at previous games.

“The line we’re getting from various authorities is that policies on live transmissions from outside Olympic venues and iconic sites have not been decided yet,” Kevin Fleck of Global Vision, a service provider, told Reuters.