More than 360 global PR professionals arriving in Beijing are being warned that their rooms could be bugged and their emails monitored by the Chinese authorities.
An army of PR experts has descended on the Chinese capital for the three-week event on behalf of national Olympic committees, international sports federations and sponsors.
Many are concerned about information they reveal over the phone or include in emails.
One senior PRO in Beijing who declined to be named admitted it is ‘a little dangerous’ to discuss the authorities in public.
‘I expect my room is bugged and searched and my emails and phone calls monitored,’ said the PRO, who also advised others to steer clear of discussion about politics, as ‘it is very sensitive’.
Hill & Knowlton media consultant Rowland Jack, working in Beijing on behalf of the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG), said: ‘There are clearly big cultural differences between China and the UK so I am careful about what I commit to email and about leaving papers lying around.’
This follows a week of media embarrassments for the Chinese.
On Wednesday, two Britons were arrested for displaying Free Tibet banners close to the Olympic stadium.
Authorities have also come under fire for not opening access to all restricted websites and two Japanese journalists were beaten by police for trying to access a restricted area.
Following a terrorist att¬ack that hit Kashgar, 2,500 miles west of Beijing, security is tighter than ever. Security checks in places such as the Olympic Green mean that it can be a slow, difficult process to get press materials through Olympic areas.
Jack added that the authorities’ approach to the media is radically different from that in the West: ‘There just is not the feeling that they need to be at the media’s beck and call.
‘I can well imagine a journalist who might be waiting for hours to get approval to film on some street. The attitude is prove to me why you need to film there.’
Visa restrictions and delays have been widely publicised, while official approval of press materials can take up to 48 hours. The language barrier issue is also causing problems among officials.
Estimated number of PR people in Beijing for Olympics
Members of the media in Beijing
National Olympic Committees in Beijing
International sports federations in Beijing
Official global and national sponsors of the Games