Is there no end to NBC Sports’ determination to keep a happy face on the Olympics? As the games concluded today, it is abundantly clear that producers are willing to ignore just about anything.
Hotels and facilities not ready for prime time? What are you talking about? Protesters whipped by Cossacks? La la la la. Russian-backed troops in Kiev killing revolting citizens? Did you say something?
That NBC wanted to treat its evening broadcast as a made-for-TV movie, rather than a real sporting event, was a given. NBC Sports execs said as much before the games started. If you want the messy, unpredictable coverage, they expected you to find real-time feeds on cable channels or online.
When you pay $775 million for the exclusive US right to broadcast the games, some creative license comes with it. But when you are the only broadcast pipeline for 313 million Americans, there is an obvious obligation to put the public’s needs ahead of your profits.
The blinders used by NBC Sports during these games were insulting to viewers. This is not the 1970s, before cable news and long before the Internet. People know much, much more about what’s going on in the world around them. To ignore the intelligence of viewers, whether on air or online, is arrogant. To do so in the face of a network’s journalistic obligation is abusive.
NBC’s willingness to ignore that obligation was evident as the games opened, when the network deleted comments from the International Olympic Committee president critical of Russia’s discriminatory laws towards gays and minorities. In that same broadcast, during a video package prior to the opening ceremonies, NBC referred to Russia’s period of communist rule as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”
So it came as little surprise when the broadcasts, on air or online, had no acknowledgement of protests staged by Russian dissident groups, like the band Pussy Riot. On the 19th, social media and news wires were packed with images like this of cossacks whipping members of the band when they tried to stage a performance inside the village.
What, you didn’t see anything about it on that night’s show? You expected some acknowledgement of reality between the ooey, gooey coverage of women’s figure skating? Fat chance.
But nowhere was NBC’s abdication of journalistic integrity more evident than when violence erupted in nearby Ukraine. This wasn’t some random story. The people flooding the streets of Kiev were protesting the Putin-backed president’s corruption and continued political allegiance to Russia.
Ukrainian athletes draped black banners over the balconies of their dorms. They organized a moment of silence with fellow athletes from around the world. One athlete even dropped out of the games to go join her fellow citizens in protests.
And still NBC was silent. You won’t even find any of that on the NBC Olympics website. By contrast, the BBC not only covered Ukraine’s gold medal performance in the biathlon by pointing out the significance against the political backdrop, but then also highlighting the story on their website.
Friday night Costas did break the silence, only slightly, by offering this during prime time: “While Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, theirs is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that’s just a partial list.”
It was too little, too late, and lacking any connection to the broadcasts. NBC has two years to pull its head out of the clouds. The American people deserve better.
About Project TILWO — I watch Sochi 2014 Olympic coverage on TV and online then share the lessons I learn, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.