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Opinion: West Could Lose Soul Over Chinese Media Censorship

DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz says that the West cannot afford to be cautious in its criticism of China for limiting Internet access for journalists during the Olympic Games.

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Michael Vesper, the executive director of Germany's Olympic Sports Federation, says that every country blocks Web sites. By doing so, he's trying to help people understand the actions of China's rulers, who have -- permanently or temporarily -- blocked the Web sites of international media organizations, such as the BBC, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Deutsche Welle, even within the press center of the Olympic Games.

Web sites are blocked all over the world -- Vesper is right about that. But his comparison is still wrong and uncalled for.

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Daniel Scheschkewitz

In Germany, right-wing extremist sites are blocked because they instigate people to commit crimes and because the spreading of right-wing extremist ideas in itself is already a crime. In the People's Republic of China on the other hand, the foreign press is denied free access to the Internet, because media organizations -- for reasons of state -- are permanently and systematically controlled there. Why should guests be allowed to do what the own population isn't allowed to do?

From its own point of view, China's leadership is acting logically and consequentially: In for a penny, in for a pound. Relaxing media censorship during the Olympic Games would have been a major surprise and would have sent a signal to the Chinese population. Once freedoms have been granted, it's very hard to take them away again. The process of liberal evolution most often develops a dynamic of its own that's hard to reckon with.

China's principled stand is countered by the West's softness. Not only Olympic officials, but also politicians and even representatives of journalistic organizations have only mildly protested with self-imposed restraint against the censorship measures so far. A misunderstood pragmatism and a wish to woo a rising economic superpower are reasons for this.

This playing with fire ould easily cost the West its soul. Without free discourse and the unhindered exchange of ideas, our free economic order doesn't mean much, either. The strength of our civil societies is based on tolerance and respect for the opinions of those who think differently.

China has invited the world for the Olympic Games. But the doors remain closed for the global spectrum of opinions -- not only in the country but also in those places where journalists are supposed to make use of their right to unhindered access to information: in press centers and Beijing's large hotels. To accept this Chinese censorship is misconceived tolerance. The West loses its credibility. China will feel vindicated and continue to let no one dictate to it about human rights.

Besides -- without pressure, no power apparatus, especially a regime that's based on repression, will move an inch. As good guests, Olympic athletes and officials should respect their host country, its customs and traditions. But if the rules of the game violate our fundamental values, one has to be able to point this out with indignation -- even in China, and especially during the Olympic Games.

Daniel Scheschkewitz is DW-RADIO's national correspondent (win)

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