At 9 o’clock, on Tuesday morning, placards seemed to float above and weave through West Side traffic. On first glance, they appeared to advertise next year’s Olympics. On closer inspection, passersby could see that the linked rings were really handcuffs, and that the words Beijing 2008 were scrawled in blood-red.
The placards were attached to four quadricycles, which made their way through the rush-hour crush to the foot of the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle.
The cyclists were promoting a recent initiative by the group Reporters Without Borders, a journalist organization that has recently been protesting human-rights violations against journalists and others by the Chinese government.
On this 80-degree-plus morning, they were pedaling as part of an appeal to the International Olympic Committee to put pressure on the Chinese government to institute protections for the working press.
Lucie Morillon, R.S.F.’s Washington representative, was at the campaign’s kickoff, in which the four bikers traveled from media-center Columbus Circle to Chinatown.
“We owe these people to remind the rest of the world of their plight,” Ms. Morillon said, referring to 32 journalists and 50 “cyberdissidents” currently imprisoned in China. “When everyone else is going to be celebrating in China with these games, these people should not be forgotten.”
A 79-page report produced by the organization condemned the Chinese government, accusing it of breaking promises about press freedom made to the I.O.C. in 2001 during the bidding process for the 2008 games.
Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, was in Beijing for a press conference on the same subject when The Observer reached him by phone. “(The Chinese government) has taken some steps for foreign journalists but things remain tight and tough for Chinese journalists,” Mr. Steiger said. “We took note of that and encouraged China to fulfill its promises.”
Mr. Steiger said he would meet with I.O.C. representatives in Beijing during his visit this week as well.
Ms. Morillon said the campaigns were timed to draw attention to the situation in China at a time when the media would be especially focused on the country.
“We have an influence on the Chinese government that we won’t have for a long time,” she said. “If we don’t use the momentum now we won’t have it again anytime soon.”
Mr. Steiger, who still serves as editor-at-large for The Wall Street Journal, said he would be meeting with the bureau and with a few Chinese officials on bureau business, and said that they were unlikely to expand the bureau in contemplation of the coming games.
“The additional reporters that we send will mainly focus on covering the games,” Mr. Steiger said. “But we have a deep presence here of fluent Chinese speakers, and we’re here for the long haul.” Mr. Steiger also recently denied claims that Rupert Murdoch’s buyout of The Journal would limit the paper’s coverage of China, a country in which Mr. Murdoch has great business interests, according to the Associated Press.
New York Times deputy foreign editor Ethan Bronner said that he wasn’t aware of any changes planned for The Times’ Chinese bureau. He said The Times will send sports reporters and a sports editor for the games, but that he hadn’t heard any plans to add political reporters to the five correspondents currently working in China.
“But it’s not out of the question,” Mr. Bronner said. “There may be a limit to the number of accreditations that they’ll give us. They may not hand out 150 journalist’s visas to The New York Times.”
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