NBC Sports chief: human rights in China a “mystery”

NBC Sports chief: human rights in China a “mystery”

NBC Sports Universal Chairman Dick Ebersol says viewers of the network’s coverage of the XXIX Olympiad shouldn’t expect a lot of superfluous reports on political protests and whatnot. NBC is planning 3,600 hours of television and Internet coverage of the Games, but Ebersol says NBC Sports will cut to news about unrest “only if it interferes with the competition or hinders athletes from getting to the competition.” It’s a policy that is not dissimilar from that of the Chinese state media, which spent all of yesterday pretending that the protests in Athens never happened.

As Anne Applebaum points out in today’s Washington Post, we always expected this kind of “see no evil” behavior from the Olympics’ corporate sponsors. But the media? There was always the danger that, with the Games being covered primarily by sports reporters ill-equipped to handle the complexities of modern day China, the political angle would be under-covered or simply ignored. Which is why this comment by Ebersol is concerning:

I believed in July of 2001 and believe today that the I.O.C. gave the Games to Beijing because it was really important for them to take place for the first time in the largest nation in the world. As it relates to the mysteries of China, including human rights, I believe giving the Games to China shines a light on a part of the world that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

China’s human rights record is hardly a “mystery.” Check out the U.S. State Department’s country report on the subject, which lays out Beijing’s dismal record in no uncertain terms.

All of this talk of shining a light on China reminds me of the way corporations — automakers, banks, oil — talked about doing business in apartheid South Africa back in the 1970s. Their pretense was the same one that NBC and the Beijing Games’ corporate sponsors are employing today: that engagement encourages change from within. A quarter of a century later, in 2002, the victims of apartheid filed multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuits against IBM, Ford, Citigroup, British Petroleum, and other multinationals for collaborating in a crime against humanity. At least some firms, such as BP, defended their South African operations by arguing that they demonstrated to white South Africans that integration and profits can go hand-in-hand.

In the face of Beijing’s quashing of political dissent, what will NBC and the other corporations that have gotten into bed with Beijing be able to say in defense of themselves? NBC paid nearly $900 million for the right to broadcast the Olypmics and China is already censoring its coverage. If that isn’t enough to dispel any “mysteries” of authoritarianism, what is?