Mr. Jeffrey Zucker
President and Chief Executive Officer
NBC Universal, Inc.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
Dear Mr. Zucker,
We are contacting you to ask how NBC Universal, which will beam coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to a worldwide audience next August, is reconciling its stated commitment to corporate responsibility with well-documented human rights abuses linked to the preparations for these Games. Given General Electric’s dual role as a TOP Olympic sponsor and NBC’s parent company, Human Rights Watch sent a letter articulating these concerns to GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt on September 19, but we have not received a reply.
Human Rights Watch has already held discussions with the United States Olympic Committee as well as other corporate sponsors and Olympic suppliers regarding human rights abuses tied to the Beijing Games. We believe that NBC, as a worldwide broadcaster of these Games, bears a heightened responsibility to convey to Chinese authorities its concerns about such abuses. NBC can also be a potent force for positive change on the ground in China by promptly and meticulously covering any human rights abuses in the run-up, and during the Beijing Games.
We are writing to ask you to leverage NBC’s “wonderful partnership with BOCOG” to which David Neal referred in an interview with the People’s Daily last September. Speaking out publicly about ongoing human rights in China is the best way to achieve progress in human rights, and indeed, is a clear responsibility of a media company operating in an environment where human rights abuses are routine.
In February 2001, Liu Jingmin, the vice-president of the Beijing Olympic Committee then bidding for the Games, stated that a victorious bid would “help further advance the human rights conditions of China.”
Yet Human Rights Watch has researched and documented numerous human rights abuses in China, many specifically related to the government’s hosting of the Olympics: violations of media freedom described in greater detail below, abuses of the rights of migrant workers employed on the construction of Olympic venues, forcible evictions of Beijing residents and demolition of residential areas for the construction of Olympics-related infrastructure, and the use extrajudicial house arrests to silence any potential criticism of the government in the run-up to the Games.
NBC should be particularly concerned with the status of media freedom in China. In order to secure the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government made specific pledges on this issue. On January 1, 2007, the government introduced temporary regulations—which do not extend to coverage of Tibet--to give expanded freedoms to foreign journalists in the run-up to, and during, the Beijing Games. Yet despite these regulations, Human Rights Watch research has documented continuing harassment, intimidation and detention of foreign journalists in China. Please see the enclosed report, "You Will be Harassed and Detained: China Media Freedoms Under Assault Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games."
Such violations raise serious questions about the Chinese government’s pledges to the International Olympic Committee, and about the ability to work of the estimated 30,000 journalists who are expected to cover China in the context of the Games. Our ongoing research indicates that restrictions on foreign media have tightened in the past three months with correspondents being routinely harassed, detained and intimidated in the course of their work by government officials, security forces and plainclothes thugs that appear to operate at official behest.
Domestic reporters and Chinese nationals working for the foreign media are not covered by the temporary regulations and thus remain under threat of potentially vicious official reprisals for reporting which strays beyond the dictates of the official propaganda system. Furthermore, the Chinese government exercises extensive and systematic censorship on all media including the Internet, therefore depriving its 162 million users in China the freedom of Web access taken for granted in much of the rest of the world. Further information on this issue can be found in the enclosed report, “Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship.”
We believe that such abuses are likely to worsen in the countdown to the August 8, 2008 unless corporate sponsors such as NBC, Olympic Committees, and rights-respecting governments express concerns about the Chinese government’s denial of the existence of these violations and demand that the authorities investigate such incidents and punish the perpetrators. We ask NBC to publicly and privately take up the issue of media freedom with your Chinese government interlocutors, and to urge them to take the following steps with regard to the temporary media regulations:
1. Enforce the new temporary regulations for foreign journalists’ reporting rights so that they do not face harassment, intimidation, or detention, and pledge publicly to investigate and remedy any violation of these rights;
2. Make these regulations permanent beyond the October 17, 2008 deadline when they are due to expire, a possibility broached by Cai Wu (minister of the State Council Information Office) on December 27, 2007;
3. Extend the same rights to Chinese journalists, in line with article 35 of China’s constitution (“Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”).
With some 200 days until the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the clock is ticking for NBC to unambiguously publicly express its concerns to the Chinese government about those human rights violations.
We welcome the opportunity of meeting you to discuss how Human Rights Watch can assist NBC in ensuring that the Beijing Games are a success not only for its organizers, athletes, spectators and sponsors, but also for China’s 1.3 billion citizens long after the Olympics are over.
We look forward to hearing from you, and thank you in advance for your consideration.
Business and Human Rights Director
Asia Advocacy Director
cc: Mr. Richard Cotton; Mr. Gary Zenkel
Enclosures: Human Rights Watch reports
- You Will be Harassed and Detained: China Media Freedoms Under Assault Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
- Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship.