August 05, 2008

We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China. We are confident that the games coming to China not only promote our economy, but also enhance all social conditions, including education, health and human rights.
- Wang Wei, secretary general of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee, 2001

Now, for some reason, the press feels betrayed. The head of the International Olympic Committee feels betrayed. Various observers around the world feel betrayed.

Yet in this context at least, the exact truth seems to have been told. The ability of the press to report on events in Beijing does not seem to have been touched in the slightest ... from which it does not follow that the press had been promised unfettered Internet access, nor that local people who are not directly assigned to the task will be willing to talk with them. While the Chinese government has given out a rather long list of topics which should not be discussed with foreigners, no such list could possibly work were the people determined not to go along with it. Consider, for a counter-example, just how many freedom-of-speech court cases are in United States domestic process, over information which some call treasonous and others insist it is treasonous not to say it aloud. Different countries, different values, different assumptions of what is and is not appropriate to say, and what may even be considered a state security risk.

From a different point of view, perhaps an enhanced security is precisely what also enhances all social conditions, and consequently improves access to education, health care, even that most basic of human rights: to live. From a different point of view, unfettered freedoms look very similar to anarchy.

From a different point of view, the freedom to do anything one wishes (so long as it is not proved to have directly harmed another), the unfettered freedom to say anything and even to own unrestricted weaponry for self defence, looks extremely similar to an utter distrust of the structures set up by the domestic society to enforce its own existing laws, from federal investigation to one's own local police.

How much do the unfettered rights of the individual outweigh a collective right to security? Different countries have made drastically different choices ... though it is worth noting that not a single country has decided that the individual completely outweighs the society.

(Another tiny irony: the environmental overhauls needed to shift the atmospheric effects of Beijing's geographical situation absolutely require a draconian abeyance of individual freedoms ... and still it may not be enough to ensure a blue sky day. Can you imagine being told that for 10+ days you are not allowed to drive your own car? go to work? open your own place of business? Can you imagine all the factories being shut down? Yet we already know that individual freedoms to manage areas held in common, such as the quality of the air measured against potential personal profit, do not work. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't?)

The truth has been told: yet what seems to have been heard was not what was said. (In one or more dominant societies, it may even be societally unacceptable to hear it in any other way.) In passing, we also learn an interesting thing about the distinction between journalism and reporting.

If an Olympic international intermediary made promises which were not his to make, whose is the fault?

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