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Global round-up: From Beijing to London in media law news

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As foreign athletes, sports fans and hordes of journalists look toward home with the closing of the Olympics this weekend, free-press…

As foreign athletes, sports fans and hordes of journalists look toward home with the closing of the Olympics this weekend, free-press advocates are assessing how reporters have fared in and around Beijing. 

To the global nonprofit Reporters Without Borders, it was a "disaster."

The New York Times reports today that at least one blogger is among a group of Americans to be held for 10 days after their arrest at a Tibet protest.  That caps a two-week period in which the Foreign Correspondents Club of China counts more than 30 reports of official interference with the news media, including eight instances of loss or damage to equipment and 10 cases of violence against reporters.

Two Associated Press reporters were detained, "roughed up" and had their photo memory cards taken on Wednesday when they tried to cover a protest in Beijing, the FCCC said. 

And on Thursday The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial that reporter Leslie Hook, after writing for the newspaper about land disputes in China, received menacing phone calls demanding to know where she lives.

 "Such incidents are not uncommon, and the phone calls to Ms. Hook are minor compared to the harassment that other foreign journalists have experienced," The Journal editorial said. "They pale beside the treatment accorded Chinese journalists, who can lose their jobs, and their liberty, for pursuing stories against the government’s wishes."

China vowed in the months leading up to the Olympics that as host, it would not interfere with journalists during their stay. But while reporters poolside and by the track were essentially free to do their work, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said on the group’s Web site, "This repression will be remembered as one of the defining characteristics of the Beijing games."

Elsewhere around the world this week:

In the wake of a United Nations report scolding Britain over its sweeping libel laws, The Independent newspaper reports that American celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, "claiming their reputations have been tarnished by the US tabloids have decided" the United Kingdom is "the place to sue their antagonists."

The near-universal availability of American publications over the Internet has fueled a string of libel suits that might have failed elsewhere, but instead netted public apologies or hefty payouts in the UK. That, the newspaper says, has turned London into the "libel capital of the world."

The UN Committee on Human Rights weighed in last week with a report warning that Britain’s libel laws threaten to chill free speech and curb critical reporting on government matters. The report urged Britain to adopt a "public figure" exception, allowing more liberal speech and writing about prominent people, such as the United States has.

Finally, Reuters reported on Thursday the U.S. released one of its cameramen, after he was held for three weeks without charge in Iraq.