This week, NBC Sports made a not-so-surprising announcement that much of its Olympic team in Beijing will be covering next month’s Winter Games from afar, in Stamford, Concrete, as the Covid pandemic disrupts the event again.
But international resonance over human rights abuses in China, which led to a U.S. diplomatic boycott, has led the network to cover the Games, beginning with a telecast of the opening ceremony on Feb. 4, where Mike Tirik leads from Beijing and TodaySavannah Guthrie in the states.
Human rights groups have already called on NBC and other broadcasters to abandon plans for the Games, and although this was never a likely prospect, network executives said this week they would add two experts on China: Andy Brown, China’s former editor. Wall Street Journal and now editor-in-chief of Bloomberg New Economy, as well as Jing Tsu, a cultural historian who is a professor of Chinese studies at Yale City.
“Our report will give a look at China’s place in the world and the geopolitical situation in which these Games are held, ”said Molly Solomon, president of NBC Olympics Production, in a presentation last week in which she interviewed Tirico. “But athletes remain a central part of our coverage.”
Solomon told Tirik that NBC News from the office in China would be in place to “cover the news in China” and that they had covered issues at the Games in the past. “And most recently we covered Covid and the athletes’ protests in Tokyo, ”she said. The news department has not yet announced its plans, but its correspondents have been writing about the human rights situation for years.
The U.S. boycott is linked to “continued genocide and crimes against humanity” in China against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Last fall, a coalition of 200 human rights groups called on media outlets around the world to cancel their broadcast plans. “All your companies are at serious risk of being complicit in China’s plan to” sports launder “serious and aggravating human rights abuses and to encourage the Chinese authorities to act,” the letter said. A spokeswoman for the group, Mandy McCown, said they had not received a response.
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and author of several books on the business behind the Olympics, says NBC is in an “impossible situation” when hosting a major sporting event amid international human rights concerns. He said the question arises as to how many people will watch, and the prospect of engaging in “making goods” if the rating falls below the guarantee to advertisers. Given the controversy that has arisen at the last Games, there is also a long-term concern that more and more companies are reluctant to sign up to participate as sponsors of the Olympics as a whole, he said.
“Not much [NBC] Honestly, he can do it, ”Tsymbalist said. “… All they can do is try in a subtle way without offending the Chinese too much – it’s to make some news about it. They are between stone and anvil.
If the past is a landmark, the most attention will be paid to the opening ceremony, which at any Games is a spectacle of propaganda for the host country. Back in 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the opening ceremonies were hailed as “wow” and a spectacle like no other, under the unifying slogan “One World, One Dream”.
As Brown wrote in a recent column, Chinese President Xi Jinping now “boasts that the East is rising and the West is declining.” «
“This newly discovered assertiveness provoked exactly the answer that was supposed to be avoided at the 2008 Games: Pew polls show that views on China are at an all-time low in both the West and China’s Asian neighbors. But now Beijing doesn’t seem to care, ”Brown wrote.
Bob Costas, a presenter in the prime time of the NBC Olympics from 1992 to 2016, spoke openly about what NBC faces at the Games. “Now it’s a challenging area for NBC and for other Americans. We don’t know what danger anyone could be in if they speak openly, ”he told CNN last month.
Costas cited a case when he hosted the Games in 1996, when China was again admitted to the Olympics. When their athletes went to the parade of nations during the opening ceremony, “I noted that it was relevant to the Olympics: if there is a nation that has the means and motivation to replicate the old Soviet and Eastern bloc sports car, with all that it means you are watching to this nation. “
“Well, the Internet was in its infancy, but there was some attempt to fire me from Beijing,” Costas said. “There were protests around 30 Rock. They demanded a full public apology from me in prime time, which was not the case. “
NBCUniversal is in the midst of a deal with the International Olympic Committee for $ 7.75 billion on broadcasting rights to the 2032 Games. Last month in a podcast, Ricochet Costas noted how unlikely it is that NBC will abandon the Games, given the huge investment and because it is one of the few remaining big events that extends to demographic segments.
Costas acknowledged that there is a “diplomatic aspect” to being a broadcaster of the Olympics in the host country, but international situations still cannot be ignored. He said that if he was still taking it, he would remember that “you are not trying to move the pot. You have friends and colleagues there, and who knows what the Chinese can do to make their lives difficult or uncomfortable. But as much as I could, I tried not to close our eyes to this very big elephant in the room. “
Cymbalist, however, believes it is in China’s interest to continue to prevent public violations with the IOC’s key broadcasting partner. “Both sides know that cooperation is needed for this to be successful,” he said.