BEIJING – Olympic organizers unblocked some Internet sites at the main press center and media venues Friday while others remained off limits for journalists covering the Beijing games.
The move falls short of the "free and unfettered access" the organizers and Chinese officials had promised for months. However, it was an improvement from earlier in the week when sites for the likes of Amnesty International or Tiananmen Square could not be opened.
Senior International Olympic Committee officials met late into the night Thursday with their Chinese counterparts and said they reached an agreement to unblock sites, although the IOC statement said the details were still being formulated.
"We trust them to keep their promise," the International Olympic Committee said.
Kevan Gosper, the press commission head of the IOC, said the IOC and Chinese officials were working toward "unblocking sites that we believe were unreasonably blocked."
Gosper acknowledged full Web access was not possible due to China's authoritarian government and the tight social controls exerted by the Communist Party.
"We have always had an understanding, and we haven't necessarily talked about it, that any sovereign government will block pornographic sites and what they might consider subversive, or sites which are contrary to the national interest," Gosper said.
"I would suggest also that we are not working in a democratic society, we're working in a communist society. This is China, and they are proud to be a communist society. So it will be different.
"In terms of all other matters," Gosper said journalists and broadcasters would have the same access as during previous Olympics.
"I believe we are now on the way to getting there."
Gunilla Lindberg, an IOC vice president from Sweden who is staying in the Athletes' Village, said she thought full Internet access had been achieved, but acknowledged she had not checked many sites.
"I just got the message early this morning that everything had opened up. And I'm very happy about that."
Amnesty International's site was open on Friday, but links to the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong remained closed. Some Web sites dealing with Tibet were open, but others tied to the restive region in the west of China were blocked. The BBC's Chinese-language site was open at times, but frequently unavailable.
Searches for Falun Gong turned up only blank Web pages, and searching for sensitive phrases like "Tiananmen Square" turned up sites that could not be accessed.
China's communist government routinely filters its citizens' Internet access, although an organizing committee spokesman disputed this.
"In China, Internet access is fully open," Sun Weide said. "And we're keeping our promises when bidding for the games to provide good environment and a quality service for reporters using the Internet to cover the Olympic Games. And we administer the Internet by law."
The censored Internet is among the issues tarnishing China's attempt to us the Olympics to promote an image of a modern, open state. The run-up to the games, which begin in a week, had also been dominated by concerns about Beijing's choking air pollution, attempts to censor foreign TV broadcasters, and a security crackdown that had discouraged foreign tourists.
Gosper, the Australia IOC member, was caught up in the controversy.
On Thursday, he said he felt like the "fall guy" after promising reporters at the games they would have uncensored Internet access, only to find certain Web sites blocked. He went further by saying he suspected the IOC's senior leadership — including president Jacques Rogge — probably knew about the change and had worked with the Chinese to engineer it.
He backed off from that suggestion Friday after talking with Rogge and Hein Verbruggen, who heads an IOC committee that helped organize the Beijing games.
"I have absolute assurance from the president of the IOC that no new arrangements have been entered into with (the local organizing committee) BOCOG or the Chinese authorities in respect to censorship for the international press to report on the games," Gosper said. "I now am absolutely satisfied there hasn't been."