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Free Speech and Press in China Not Inevitable, Global Media Expert Warns

New Opinion Paper Is First in 'Speaking Freely' Series

FOR RELEASE: August 1, 2008

Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute
703-243-5700

 

Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2008 – The Olympic Games in Beijing represent a "fleeting opportunity" for the Chinese to move toward greater freedom of speech and press – but it is an opportunity fraught with uncertainty that comes with no guarantees, according to a leading expert on global media.

Kurt Wimmer, senior vice president and general counsel of Gannett Co., Inc., writes that the Beijing Olympiad will lead to free expression only if it creates internal and external pressure to undermine the Chinese government's tight control of speech.

Wimmer notes that dozens of Chinese writers have been imprisoned for expressing their opinions, and that foreign journalists have received death threats for their coverage of protests, in a climate where the Chinese government views free speech as a threat.

The key to achieving free expression, Wimmer believes, is the will of the Chinese people. "If the parade of international media provokes Chinese citizens to question why they are not trusted by their own government to receive uncensored versions of YouTube, Facebook, CNN and BBC, perhaps popular pressure could usher in an era of greater transparency," Wimmer writes.

Earlier in his career, Wimmer was stationed in London and has worked extensively with global free-press organizations and international media companies.

Wimmer's paper, "The Beijing Olympiad: A Fleeting Opportunity for a Freer China," is the first in a new series of opinion papers titled Speaking Freely. The series is co-published by The Media Institute in Arlington, Va., and The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville, Va. The papers will be available from both organizations in hard copy and on their websites: www.mediainstitute.org, and www.tjcenter.org.