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The Olympic Games censored on TV?

Latest update : 2008-03-28

The lighting of the Olympic torch was broadcast to the world through a delayed live transmission, leaving the door open to censorship. Will this also be the case for the Olympic Games?

A censored live transmission? The question has surfaced after the broadcast in Beijing of the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony. Three members of the NGO Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) disrupted Olympic committee president Qi Liu’s speech to attract attention on human rights violations in China.


Greek television, in charge of the broadcast, showed a few seconds of the incident. The scene then cut to a large shot of the stands, followed by a close shot on Qi Liu.


Vincent Brossel, one of the three protestors arrested by the Greek police, said the incident “was not mentioned by Greek television” after the arrest. “Television stations the world over are steering clear of the incident”, he added. Meanwhile, Christos Panagapoulos, President of Greek radio and television, assured news agency AFP that no censorship took place.


Nevertheless, the images never made it to television screens in China. The Chinese broadcast was suspended minutes after Qi Liu’s speech began. Archive images then replaced the live feed. “This leads us to believe that Chinese television was broadcasting with a time delay,” says Brossel. “They will also do this during the broadcast of the games.”



 IOC and Chinese Olympic committee in discussion


The time delay during the broadcast does not depend only on China. The Olympic broadcast is to be managed both by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and by Chinese authorities. The Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co., Ltd (BOB) has been jointly created by the IOC and Beijing to this effect.


It remains to be seen whether the transmission by BOB will suffer a time delay. If it does, it would a first as far as the Olympic Games are concerned. The IOC does not clearly reply to the question. Interviewed by FRANCE 24, Emmanuelle Moreau, in charge of IOC media relations in Lausanne, said that “the IOC and the Chinese Olympic committee are discussing details about the broadcast. A meeting will be held next week.”


Daniel Bilalian, Head of  Sports at France Télévisions (French national television), told RTL radio that “if the games are censored in whatever manner by Chinese authorities, and if such action is accepted by the IOC - which I don’t really think will happen – our position will obviously have to be reevaluated. In such a case, I think that the president of France Télévisions will decide not to cover the games.”



Delayed live transmission - a common practice in China and elsewhere.


According to Sébastien Le Belzic, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Beijing, censorship and delayed live broadcasts are common in China. “International channels are often blacked out when sensitive subjects are evoked. Video sites like YouTube are also blocked, not to mention the BBC’s website.”


Chinese censorship does not follow any precise codes, specifies Jean-Luc Domenach, Research Director at the CERI institute in Paris. Domenach was invited by Chinese television to comment on the French legislative elections in 2002. “I spoke about relations between the French communist party and far-left factions -  my comments were not broadcast. But, my comments on China were shown on air….The stakes for the Olympic Games are high. There are no professional codes - all methods are possible.”


Delayed transmission – censorship, in other words – is not restrained to China alone. In 2004 a scandal erupted in the US when singer Janet Jackson exposed a nearly naked breast during a show that was widely broadcast. The incident caused many American television channels to delay direct transmissions.


Arnaud Mercier, professor at the University of Metz and specialist in political communication, cites Fox News, reputed for censoring numerous anti-Bush commentaries. During the Emmy Award ceremony last September, actress Sally Field pleaded against the Iraq war during her acceptance speech. “Her speech was brutally cut off”, says Mercier.


Mercier also points out that “one not need to look very far for censorship by delaying live broadcasts. In France, the reality-show Loft Story was broadcast through a delayed live feed. A revolt by the participants against the show was thus omitted.”


Date created : 2008-03-27