NBC had a panel at last weekend’s Television Critics Association press tour, specifically to discuss the network’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Yet it appears that no one on the panel was prepared to discuss the elephant in the room: the new Russian law that makes it illegal to spread “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.
In and of itself this outrageously ill-informed legislation is essentially government-sanctioned discrimination and should be considered a major step back for human rights everywhere. But if there can be a “bad time” to unleash such a mistake, this would be it, considering thousands of foreign athletes and fans will descend upon Russia next February — and now some of them will have to fear being detained and fined for simply being who they are.
(In case you’re of the mind that as long as athletes don’t hand out pamphlets saying “I Am Gay, And You Can Too!” or “Got A Penis? Why Don’t You Try Holding Another One In Your Hand For A Minute?” they’ll be fine, note that four Dutch nationalists were recently detained in Murmansk and fined, having visited the country to film a movie on gay rights.)
The International Olympic Committee has already released a statement regarding the law. Here’s the most salient bit:
As you know, this legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media. Wider political issues in the country are best dealt with by other international organizations more suited to this endeavor.
And some high-profile athletes — including America’s own Johnny Weir — have taken public stances in defiance of the law.
So what did NBC have to say about its role as the sole American broadcasting outlet of this event? How would this news organization choose to cover what has already become a major story line before the Games even begin? Do they recognize that the Olympics are not just a sporting event, but a test of international relations?
Short answers: Not much; by doing nothing if they could help it; no.
NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus tried to head these issues off at the pass by saying in his opening statement vague words about “political issues” surrounding the Games and how NBC would cover those political issues if warranted, as it covers all political issues in all host countries it visits. But, he insisted, right now was too early to speculate on such matters, because the Games aren’t until February (when Russia will presumably have spontaneously become a progressive wonderland for gay rights).
Other useless platitudes offered up by Lazarus included “Right now they have a law that is the law of their land,” “governments across the world have different laws,” and “It exists.”
It appears that, as an international media empire, NBC is more concerned with continuing to sell its movie tickets and TV show rights to Russia than maintaining serious news coverage. And even its top executives seem confused as to where their network’s job as a reporter of sports news ends and political news begins.
NBC has a responsibility as a major news network to bring Russia’s travesty of a law to light. Failing to do so — or even, at this early stage, appearing as if they hope they won’t have to — is indicative of where the mainstream media finds itself in 2013. Oooh, look, a video of Justin Bieber pissing in a bucket. Gotta run!
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