Nervous broadcasters of the Beijing Olympics are drastically reducing media coverage of sensitive Chinese issues, with Australian network Seven saying: “We’re not taking any chances”.
Heavyweight global broadcasters who have paid tens of billions of dollars for the rights to the Beijing Winter Olympics are dramatically reducing media coverage of sensitive Chinese issues, amid jitters over the safety of staff on the ground.
Insiders at the Seven Network, Australia’s official broadcasters, say “we’re not taking any chances” and “the Chinese are not critical”. A detailed memo has been distributed to staff regarding the sensitivity of their coverage of the Games.
Australian athletes are also treading carefully, with some following advice not to speak about issues that concern them until they have finished competing and left the country. The opening ceremony of the Games will take place next Friday evening, February 4.
Hot topics such as the treatment of Uyghurs, the whereabouts of tennis player Peng Shuai and the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan are sidelined by new specialist teams returning to home countries, s they are covered.
The BBC, which will broadcast 300 hours of coverage in Britain, did not even refer to China in its promotions for the Games, distancing itself from the country with anonymous graphics of athletes as ice figures.
In a letter obtained by press company, BBC Director-General Tim Davie responded to political concerns, led by Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
Ghani asked the BBC “to respect its editorial principles in covering what some have called the Genocide Olympics” and that its coverage of the Beijing Olympics “should be balanced between Chinese state propaganda and ongoing Uyghur genocide”.
But Davie said it was customary for BBC News and BBC Sport to cover the Winter Olympics in “the low-key way our audience would expect”. He added that the Winter Olympics would “focus on sporting events and related sporting stories”.
US network NBC Universal, which has paid $7.6 billion for the rights to the Games up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, finds, for the first time, that its demands for wider access to cover news as well as wider cultural pieces are falling on deaf ears.
Last month, they downsized their on-site crew, switching commentators in the high-profile sports of figure skating, alpine skiing and snowboarding, moving from the ring in Beijing and Zhangjiakou to NBC studios in Connecticut. Indeed, leaders feared they had no control over what happened to their staff in the field.
While most Australian commentators are based in Melbourne, Seven has a small, mainly technical staff of around 40 people in China.
The potential sports wash of China’s reputation throughout February is also being talked about in the United States.
Republican politicians have sent a letter to Comcast Corp NBCUniversal executives asking about the level of influence the Communist Party of China and the IOC have over NBC’s 2022 Winter Olympics programming.
The Beijing Olympics will be the first to be held with very strict movement restrictions, including broadcasters having to use Chinese drivers and all media representatives unable to walk even short distances from the hotel to the Games venues.
Travel for all Games participants, including meals, is heavily confined to venues, the media center and hotels or the Olympic Village, all in a “closed loop” system that prevents journalists from interviewing Chinese or to travel outside closely supervised areas.
German journalists have posed several questions to the IOC about the integrity of the daily Covid PCR tests, which they believe could be exploited to confine and punish media representatives on the pretext that they had tested positive. Under rules agreed by the IOC, positive Covid cases will be kept in isolation facilities, or in a Chinese hospital, until they produce two negative tests, which could take three weeks.
The IOC has said a medical review board – made up of 15 Chinese health officials and five Olympic experts – will review cases where people routinely test positive after a fortnight to try to allow them to leave. In the past few days, only one team official tested positive upon arrival at Beijing airport, compared to 40 other stakeholders, mostly foreign media.
Sarah Cook, research director at Freedom House, said broadcaster self-censorship at the Olympics was “very, very problematic” and could pose difficulties if there was a newsworthy incident, such as a athlete making some kind of protest.
“China wants to scare people and censor itself,” she said, adding that having a completely sterile Olympics broadcast would be “really terrible” and “unfair” and would encourage Beijing to do it more. .
At a foreign embassy Olympics briefing, a worried reporter asked if it was safe for him to criticize China’s preparations because the mountainous area has no snow.
While the 72-page ‘playbook’ rules aim to enforce China’s zero-Covid strategy, the measures are extreme: Chinese residents have even been warned not to assist Games vehicles if they are involved in an accident. The diffusers are also contained in four different bubbles within the loop system.
Official broadcasters say they will reflect China’s place in the world when covering the Games, but during press conferences, insiders said press company there is growing concern about the type and intensity of stories to be covered.
“We have people on the pitch (for the Olympics) so we’re very, very careful about our overall tone, and we’ll focus almost exclusively on the sport,” a senior executive said.
Andrew Georgiou, president of sports at Discovery, which holds the European Olympics rights, said at the European launch of the coverage that his network would not shy away from addressing social issues, promising “we will fix it”.
But his caveat was: “We are also a sports broadcaster and we will also focus on athlete performances and what is happening on the big stage and do our best to show those stories.
“Hopefully the Olympics should shine a light on that and bring all of the Olympics back to a really interesting story for the consumer.”
Olympic leaders have held obsequious masterclasses at every recent press conference and technical briefing, saying China’s venues and playing field are “so exceptional that we can have fantastic sport here in Beijing”.
Yet the Lausanne-based organization has cut short its annual showpiece, the IOC Session, and many of the 100 IOC members are not even coming to the Chinese capital.
Australia’s Olympic gimmick is just crazy
It will be literally impossible for Australia’s Winter Olympics team to get cold at the Beijing Olympics.
In an Australian Olympic first, athletes at this year’s Games will have battery-powered heaters in their socks and gloves to help combat cold conditions in northern China.
The gloves and socks, supplied by Australian snowwear brand XTM, offer three different levels of warmth and can be used for up to six hours at a time.
The props feature artwork by Indigenous Olympian Paul Fleming, who represented Australia as a featherweight boxer at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
“It is an absolute privilege to be able to celebrate Australia’s proud Indigenous Olympic history as the team competes in Beijing,” said Chef de Mission Geoff Lipshut.
“Knowing that the athletes are connecting to Australia’s rich indigenous history, in a drawing by another Olympian, is a special honor.
“Thank you Paul Fleming for sharing this artwork, I can’t wait to see our athletes wearing this kit in a few days.”
The high-tech gloves and socks have already proven themselves with the Australian Olympic team.
“I love the (XTM) socks, they’re the best and their gloves are so warm and snug,” said snowboard cross athlete Josie Baff, who is competing in her first Winter Olympics.
“I am so grateful that we can once again have their support for the Olympics.
“This design is so cool, ‘Walking Together’ is so appropriate for the Games.”
Baff’s fellow snowboarder, Cameron Bolton, said he was a fan of Fleming’s design.
“The artwork is just fantastic, I’m so proud to wear this,” Bolton said ahead of his third Olympics.
“The artwork depicts everyone from all over the world, of all colors, religions and backgrounds coming together at the Olympic Games.”
Supplying the team’s kit for the fifth Games, XTM is also outfitting the Australians with base layers, boot bags and accessories for Beijing.
Originally published as 2022 Winter Olympics: Nervous Beijing Games broadcasters censor themselves to protect staff