IOC: China will allow media freedom

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BEIJING -- The International Olympic Committee is confident China will keep to its assurances on media freedom at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, coordination commission chief Hein Verbruggen said.

Speaking at the end of a three-day inspection of preparations for the Games, Verbruggen also said the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and local authorities were doing their best to resolve the city's pollution problem.

Media freedom in China, where foreign journalists currently work under restrictions, has long been a contentious issue for Beijing organizers, who have promised new regulations for the Olympics to be published and enacted early next year.

"Strange enough, it has not been a big topic between us and BOCOG," Verbruggen told a news conference Thursday.

"BOCOG and the authorities here have given us the assurance that, as regards to the media reporting, that media would be able to do their work here just as they did in Athens and Sydney.

"We are confident that this will be the case. We have no worries about this."

Verbruggen said Beijing had committed itself to more than 350 steps to improve the environment, backed by a budget of $12.3 billion, but was a victim of China's booming economy.

"The environment is a challenge for the organizers here," he added. "It is a challenge not because they don't work at it, they are working very hard at it.

"The problem is the economic boom is such that the problem is increasing. They are living up to their commitments but the constraints are increasing too.

"It is something that you have to take into account if you add one thousand cars every day on the roads in Beijing."

Verbruggen said that contingency plans had been discussed to make sure there were no problems for the athletes in 2008.

BOCOG vp Jiang Xiaoyu said organizers were also considering measures to sort out the city's notorious traffic congestion, including a special Olympic lane, encouraging people to use public transport and restricting the use of cars.

"I think in making these decisions we are not only trying to meet the transportation needs of the Olympic Games, but at the same time we will try to reduce the impact on the local residents as much as possible," he said.

Overall, Verbruggen said the construction of the venues, "the prime concern," was exactly on schedule and that BOCOG would now have to turn its focus to the less tangible elements of running an Olympics.

"The next phase is critical for BOCOG," he said. "Their Games are now becoming something truly on the radar of the global community, a fact that brings challenges and opportunities. The test will be how this is met."

The Beijing Games open on Aug. 8, 2008.
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