Olympics opening ceremony leaked

South Korean broadcaster irks China, IOC

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BEIJING -- Olympics organizers on Thursday slammed a South Korean TV station for an unauthorized broadcast of a dress rehearsal for the Games opening ceremony but the network said on Thursday it shot the footage legitimately.

The broadcast by the private SBS network has irked Chinese organizers who had, according to state media, made performers sign confidentiality agreements not to divulge details of the August 8 ceremony.

Internet users in China likened it to breaking state secrecy laws.

"I find it very disappointing that any organization would breach protocol on something as exciting as an opening ceremony where it's supposed to be one of the big surprises of the Games outside of athletic performance," IOC press chief Kevan Gosper told Reuters on Thursday.

"It's also the spirit of it, they know very well it should be kept private," Gosper said.

The network, one of three South Korean TV rights holders allowed to distribute Olympic footage, aired just over a minute of video of the closed-door rehearsal.

It included scenes depicting the past and future of Chinese culture and the unrolling of a huge scroll from which rises a carpet-like object.

"We went, and nobody stopped us. So we just shot," a staff reporter at SBS's sports desk said in Seoul.

SBS did not show the lighting of the Olympic torch at the National Stadium, where the rehearsal was taking place, but it reported that a golden phoenix was expected to swoop down into the stadium, dubbed the Bird's Nest, for the event.

A spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) said that reporters had been told not to take footage of the rehearsal, and that the matter was being investigated.

"At the beginning of the rehearsal, they made a broadcast saying that nobody is supposed to take any pictures," BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide told reporters.

"Of course, I don't think it's authorized. We are still looking into the details of the situation," Sun said.

China, like previous Games hosts, has been at great pains to keep the content of its opening ceremony, directed by Oscar nominee Zhang Yimou, as secret as possible, and has promised a visual spectacular to dazzle the world.

More than 10,000 performers, according to state media, are involved in the ceremony, which organizers have been working on for three years.

The broadcast drew swift condemnation from Chinese Internet users, some of whom called for a boycott of Korean goods.

"How could such a network be so unprofessional? They are no better than paparazzi!" fumed one comment posted on popular Chinese web portal Tianya (http://www.tianya.cn).

"Resolutely boycott Korean goods!" said another.

But other Internet users called for calm and said the TV station should not be blamed for a lapse in security that allowed them to film.

"We should look for the reason within the measures and system to guarantee the opening ceremony's secrecy. Blaming others doesn't solve anything," a commentary posted on web portal Sina.com said.

A video of the broadcast posted on SBS' Web site had been removed by Thursday afternoon.

China's ambitions to stage a spectacular opening ceremony have not been without controversy.

Organizers initially hired Steven Spielberg as an artistic consultant, but the director pulled out in February, citing concerns regarding China's role in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region.

China, a major importer of Sudanese oil, and an arms-seller to Khartoum, shrugged off Spielberg's withdrawal, saying he had not contributed to the opening ceremony's production, and that it would be successful regardless.