Tuesday, August 12, 2008
CREDIT: BRUCE STOTESBURY/ VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell stopped by Beijing's international media centre Tuesday, to sell his message about the state-of-the-art media centre the province is building in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
Instead, he found himself in a political discussion with reporters from some of China's government-run media who wanted to use his press conference to focus on problems affecting the Vancouver Olympics.
But the questions seemed to have more to do with political positioning than with eliciting information.
When one reporter from the China Daily, considered by Westerners to be a government mouthpiece, zeroed in how Campbell will handle "anti-Olympic groups such as the Anti-Poverty Coalition", Campbell gave a political lesson of his own.
"In Canada we will be open to opportunities for people to express whatever views they have," he said. "There will not be opportunities to break the law, [but] we will make sure that there will be full and equal expression throughout the 2010 Olympics."
It was a diplomatic message not lost on any of the foreign reporters covering his conference.
"I would have read it that way," said Tomas Bengtsson, a reporter with Sweden's Tidningarnas Telegrambyra. "I think (the Chinese media) get so tired of people coming here and criticizing China about its human rights that they wanted to point out Canada has problems, too."
Campbell was also asked about the recent rock slide on the Sea to Sky Highway. He described the slide as "a 200-year event" and said there will be adequate contingencies in place for any problems the government foresees.
"Clearly the rock slide that took place on the Sea to Sky Highway was something that wasn't expected," he said.
Other reporters asked about whether Canada's lack of approved tourism destination status from the Chinese government will affect the Games.
"I can tell you I am always hopeful that we will receive approved destination status," he said. "But I can tell you that even without that we've seen significant increases in Chinese tourists who come to British Columbia."
Campbell also faced tough questions from several Vancouver reporters who asked about poverty and homelessness issues. He found himself talking about drug addiction, Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside, and the homeless and mentally ill on the streets.
It clearly wasn't what he was expecting when he announced that the new media centre, which will be built at a cost of $2.5 million, will serve upwards of 3,000 reporters and editors who can't get International Olympic Committee accreditation to the 2010 Winter Games.
In fact, none of the questions he received dealt with the new 2,600 square-metre facility that will be built at Robson Square.
He gave a terse "no" when asked if he was surprised that government-run media would zero in on the issues of poverty and free speech in Canada.
But the premier also didn't shirk from answering the questions, even though he knew that these issues would overtake his good-news message.
And he lavished praise on the Beijing Organizing Committee, saying they had put on a "stupendous" event. He said Beijing's transportation plan and its volunteer program were exceptional and he hopes the Vancouver organizing committee will take lessons from them.
Laura Ballance, who is coordinating construction and operation of the media centre, said it will go beyond anything done so far at the Olympics.
"Our facility will be extremely technically advanced," she said. "It will have everything from broadcast feeds for television to green screens [used for camera backdrops].
The facility is scheduled to open in early 2010. Some of the costs may be recovered through sponsorships and supplier partnerships, Campbell said.
© Vancouver Sun