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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

NBC coverage gives a narrow view of China

August 24, 2008

For NBC, Beijing is just a backdrop.
By Robert Bianco
August 22, 2008

Granted, there was never any chance that NBC, which paid more for its
broadcast rights than the rest of the world combined, was going to
jeopardize that investment by making Michael Phelps take a back seat
to some investigative reporter. Still, rather than expand our
understanding of China beyond the Water Cube, NBC seems determined to
shrink it, turning a blind eye to most any hint of a problem, like a
parent who pretends not to notice when his kid is misbehaving in public.

It's not the job of NBC's Olympics coverage to crack what producer
Dick Ebersol calls "he mystery of China" or to play referee between
our competing political and social systems. But we should ask two
things of the network: When you go outside the events, do so
honestly; and when news breaks, cover it adequately.

So far, NBC is failing on both counts.

Many journalists in China, including USA TODAY's Christine Brennan,
have written about the sterile atmosphere on the Olympic Green in the
first week caused by the Chinese government's aggressive security
measures. That's something a viewer would have known only by
omission. Gone were the Sydney pans of happy crowds, replaced by
tight shots designed to hide their absence.

When the network does wander, its efforts to find the bright side
often make Pollyanna look churlish. Mary Carillo, whose irreverence
is usually welcome, did a jokey report on the Three Gorges Dam and
the fast train to Tibet that never mentioned that both are wildly
controversial: one for its environmental impact, the other as a
territorial incursion.

The news is even worse at Today, where the attitude has become as
juvenile as the dress. (Is it too much to ask on-air adults to trade
flip-flops for grown-up shoes?) Friday's broadcast devoted two
sentences to the arrest of three American protesters and the forcible
detention of journalists trying to cover the event. That's it: no
pictures, no follow-up, no reporting, nothing that might take time
away from cooking, gushing or running one more "look at me, I'm on
the balance beam" segment.

Yes, many viewers watch sports for sports, news for news, and don't
like the two to mix. Even so, NBC is a broader brand than just the
Olympics, and it doesn't serve the company well to be branded as
paid-for toadies.

Don't go looking for trouble. Just be more upfront about what you
see, and we'll call it even.
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