The International Olympic Committee’s Principle 6 states that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’…but, does this principle apply to gay rights?
In June of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a law banning “gay propaganda,” a blanket term for any behavior that promotes homosexuality, punishable by up to 15 days in jail. Even neutral news coverage of issues involving gays and lesbians appears to violate that law. The law has caused a major uproar around the world as many are finding it difficult to reconcile that the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be hosted by a country with laws that violate the IOC’s fundamental principles.
The IOC issued a statement saying it had received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation. It said: ‘President Putin himself recently offered assurances that there will be no discrimination against gay people during the Games.”
Each Olympics affords a small global platform for protesters in host countries to get the attention of the world, mainly through the media. Gay rights has become the main focus this year. In the lead up to the Games, every element of the media has talked of this issue, but what will happen when the Olympics actually begin February 7? NBC, the American broadcaster of the Games, is coming under pressure to do more on behalf of gay rights and journalist there.
Jim Bell, the NBC Sports executive says he would broadcast images of athletes unfolding rainbow flags and similar things in protest, if that should occur. But he also says he has a simple idea for what he’ll do in the absence of such newsworthy events:
“Show the Olympics. Show the events, show the competition, show the athletes. This is the athletes’ moment. That’s really what it’s about. We’re not there to poke a sharp stick in anybody’s eye, but we’re not going to shy away from reporting anything either… My colleagues in NBC News will ask appropriate questions. They’ll do what they have to do to report stories as they develop. I don’t think we’re worried about that at all.”
NBC points out that they have accelerated their pace of coverage of the nonathletic side of the games in recent weeks. From coverage in Sochi itself, to stories about President Obama’s appointment of gay athletes, including Billy Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, to represent the U.S. in the opening ceremonies.
Although they have recently put more effort into coverage, John Wallace, NBC President, points out that overall, the NBC News’ journalists have one mission.
“Our job is reporting what’s going on in the world. We’re not activists: We’re observers and analysts,” he says.
The Committee to Protect Journalists will soon issue a report stating that Russian authorities have daunted the national media and bought off smaller outlets. It says freedom of the press requires international news channels to stand up and create running room for local media channels on problems such as gay rights in Russia.