guardian.co.uk | Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson used a press conference in Beijing today to repeatedly challenge Olympics organisers over China’s record on human rights.
Thomson asked a representative of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) at the press conference whether she was “in any way embarrassed” by the Chinese government “lying through its teeth” about keeping its promises to improve human rights and press freedom.
The Channel 4 News chief correspondent had to resist efforts from two volunteers to force the microphone from him as he continued to question the IOC’s communications director, Giselle Davies, at today’s Beijing Olympics media briefing.
Thomson’s testy exchanges with Davies came in what was the most fractious IOC-Bocog press conference yet, with journalists repeatedly demanding to know whether a single Chinese citizen had been granted permission to use the three Protest Parks set up for the Games.
In response, a senior Chinese official for the Beijing Olympics criticised parts of the international media for coming to China “to peek, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault” in the country’s human rights record.
Responding to Thomson’s initial question, Davies said: “We have to note that there have been enormous steps forward in a number of areas.”
Thomson kept pressing, asking how the IOC felt about the “manifest failure of the Chinese government to keep their promises”.
Davies again refused to directly answer the question. Instead she said that the IOC was “very proud about how these Games are progressing” before praising the “spectacular venues”.
“I’m not asking about how well the Games are being run, or how wonderful the Games are,” replied Thomson. “Are you embarrassed by China? I don’t think anyone thinks you have answered the question.”
Davies smiled, before again talking operational details. “The Olympic Games is largely about the athletes and they have given us extremely strong feedback about how things are going,” she said.
Thomson, by now resisting efforts from two volunteers to force the microphone from him, kept up the pressure.
He said: “We’re not getting anywhere are we? Are the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese government’s record on human rights? One more chance?”
Davies responded: “We have to note the enormous steps in the wider area. The world is watching and the IOC is appraising.”
Wei Wang, the secretary general of the Beijing organising committee, claimed he had not been given figures from the Office of Public Security before, after a series of questions on human rights, finally allowing his frustrations to show.
“After 30 years of reform China has developed greatly,” he said. “People enjoy more freedom. People are living a good life. Everyone is happy. That’s a fact.
“Of course there are exceptions, like in any other country. But they need to take the legal process and procedures to resolve any issues. We cannot allow this country to be in chaos.
“But there are a few people who have come here to peek, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault,” he added. “This does not mean that we are not fulfilling our promises [over human rights to the IOC]. The whole country can see how can China has developed; how China has genuinely welcomed the world to enjoy everything with us.”
Shortly after awarding the Olympics to Beijing in 2001, the IOC president Jacques Rogge claimed he hoped that hosting the Olympics would improve China’s human rights record – but Wei today denied that his country had made any such promises.
“I did not promise that China would promise to do whatever with the Games in China, I did not say that,” he said. “I think the Games will open up the horizon about China. People will see better what China is about.”