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NBCUniversal’s reputation as a legitimate purveyor of news will be tested during the Olympic



NBC will begin televising the Beijing Olympics from China on February 3d, even though the Olympics will not officially begin until the Opening Ceremonies on February 4th.  But by the time the Opening Ceremonies are concluded, the answer to how much freedom NBC will have during its telecasts will most likely be evident.

In May, Politico reported, “NBCUniversal is under fire for its U.S. broadcasting rights of the games. Chris McCloskey, the network’s vice president of communications, declined to comment. But Benedict Rogers, chief executive of the U.K.-based human rights organization Hong Kong Watch, urged NBC to avoid its broadcasts from being “hijacked as propaganda tools of the Chinese Communist Party.

Because of the human rights violations in China, President Joe Biden has spearheaded a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games. Other  U.S. government officials have gone further and asked NBC not to televise the Olympics and for the International Olympic Committee to remove the games from China.

While there has been extensive coverage of the human rights violations and censorship tactics of the Chinese government on TV news broadcasts and in print publications, NBC’s promotional lead-up to the Olympics has largely been mute about the situation.

Also quiet have been the International Olympic Committee’s U.S’s. Top Olympic Partnership associates (TOP), who normally are touting their horns about their Olympic promotions.

Others with TV pedigree backgrounds have not been so quiet.

Neal Pilson, who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals when he was president of CBS Sports during the 1980s and 1990s, told Seeking Alpha, a crowd-sourced content service for financial markets, that “The diplomatic boycott puts corporate Olympic sponsors in “an awkward spot” but was less concerning than a full boycott including athletes.” During his tenure at CBS, Pilson brought Olympic Games to CBS in 1992, 1994 and 1998.

The most outspoken sports television personality regarding China’s human rights violations that I saw was Bob Costas, who in 2012 the Hollywood Reporter called “the conscience of NBC sports” because unlike other sports commentators Costas always told it like it was (and still does). His most recent episode of not glorifying all things sports and pointing out its warts occurred when he guested on Erin Burnett’s OutFront CNN program on December 6.

In a discussion regarding President Biden’s diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, Costas supported the action saying, in part, “China has to rank as the number one human rights violator on the planet.” Costas has been a China Olympic watcher since the country was readmitted to the Olympics in 1996. He has hosted 11 games from 1992 in Barcelona to 2016 in Rio, which included China’s 2008 Summer Beijing Olympics, and has also criticized the IOC’s affinity for authoritarian regimes, saying that American sports marketers, at least business wise, are in bed with China’s policies.

Costas also called out the Chinese government’s censorship polices, pointing out that China blocks statements and punishes organizations and individuals that criticize it. He mentioned how the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics basketball games were blocked after the government didn’t like what an official and player on those teams said. In the past, Costas also was a critic of the IOC’s underplaying the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games.

Regardless of the outcry against participating in an Olympics held in a totalitarian country one thing is certain, NBC will go ahead with its telecast of the Beijing Games.

NBC and the games also face a challenge. NHLers will not partake in the hockey events. ESPN writes, “This marks the second straight Olympic tournament from which the NHL opted out. It skipped Pyeongchang in 2018 for financial reasons including insurance coverage and a lack of revenue and branding concessions from the IOC.”

But no matter how they parse it, NBCUniversal and its “proud sponsors” have now been officially accused by the U.S. president, members of Congress, leaders of other democratic countries and human rights organizations of seeing nothing wrong with supporting an Olympics in a totalitarian country, and NBC’s reputation as a legitimate purveyor of news will be tested.

In 2014, NBC Universal bought the broadcast rights from the IOC to televise the Olympic Games in the U.S. through 2032 for $7.75 billion. The deal gave the Peacock Network exclusive broadcast rights to the six Olympic Games from 2022 to 2032. The IOC obtains about 73% of its income from selling broadcast rights; about 18% comes from Olympic sponsors.  NBC provides about 40% of all IOC income, reported the Associated Press.

But as the New York Times reported, “Other networks have not demonstrated the ardor for the Olympics that NBC has. ESPN and Fox have never carried an Olympic Games, and CBS last showed the Olympics when it broadcast the 1992, ’94 and ’98 Winter Games, and they’re doing just fine without supporting a sports event that receives criticism no matter where it is held.

Arthur Solomon

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications and consults on public relations projects. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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