Who knew when it started that the Olympic Torch Relay would not only become an interminable tortoise run across Canada but worse that it would be hijacked in the most crass way by CTV, TSN and The Globe and Mail.
How do you make this patriotic run up to one of the most exciting sporting events in the world boring? Just ask the broadcasters and newspapers who own the rights to air the winter Olympics from Vancouver and Whistler.
When the torch relay began it became clear that CTV was going to cover it and run it like it is an in house event, a reality show for the rights holders. I don’t know how the torch bearers are chosen but I do know the best way to guarantee that you will get the opportunity to squeeze into one of those nifty white suits and strut down an avenue close to home making like Lady Liberty. The best way: become an on air personality for CTV or one of its affiliates. Whether it’s Seamus O’Regan in St. John’s or Ben Mulroney in Sept Iles it became very obvious very quickly that this wasn’t Canada’s torch relay it was the CTV/Globemedia torch relay.
Night after night we are treated to pictures and clips not from ordinary Canadians, not from former Olympians, not even from youngsters who dreamed of toting the flame through their home town. No, we get words and pictures of CTV celebs like Sandy Rinaldo doing their bit to advertise the fact that CTV is the Olympic Broadcaster.
Leaving aside the fairness issue, that is whether all Canadians should have had an equal opportunity to carry the Olympic Torch, since when is it okay for reporters and hosts to make themselves the story? How do you cover an event if you are the star of that event? We all know the answer, you can’t and shouldn’t but that hasn’t slowed CTV one bit. Night after night their employees get first billing and the star treatment as they heft their torches through the streets and highways of the country.
Worse than unfair, it is stupid television production. CTV, TSN and The Globe are missing great opportunities almost daily to focus on the most heartwarming, interesting, crazy and uplifting stories that I am sure are there among the just plain folks who are doing the bulk of the relay. These great stories should be the centerpiece of the coverage. The stories of real Canadians from coast-to-coast-to- coast should be hi-lighted to show how an event like the Olympics can unite a country and bring out the best patriotic passion that Canadians are so shy about.
TSN could be focusing on the former Olympians and retired athletes making one last contribution to the Canadian Olympic effort.
Instead CTV and TSN have turned what should have been a democratic event into an in house broadcast. Pity.
And I’m afraid that’s not the worst of it. In the past few days, just north of Toronto and near Brantford, Ontario we have seen the complete abdication of CTV, TSN and Globe journalism. Native people, unhappy with the symbolism and their plight in this country have used the torch relay to make their point. Protests and roadblocks have been set up forcing the relay off its planned route twice. Interestingly CTV and the paper that calls itself “Canada’s National Newspaper” have chosen to all but ignore the protests. Why? When CTV paid millions for the rights did they give up on their job as journalists in order to become Olympic cheerleaders? If so, I would advise watching the Olympics on NBC.
A few years ago I produced a documentary on Sale and Pelletier, those wonderful figure skaters who were cheated out of a gold medal. It took forever to get CTV approval to tell the story because they were afraid it would reflect badly on the Olympic movement. We had to promise them that the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) would come out smelling like a rose because they forced the skating body to rectify the problem. The doc was a huge success garnering 1.5 million viewers. CTV came back to us and asked us to do another Olympic themed doc. We suggested a look at the anti-doping lab in Montreal. Montreal is the anti-doping centre for the Olympics and Dick Pound, a Canadian, is the anti-doping king. This is something Canadians should be proud of and informed about. The work done in Montreal is pivotal and we were actually granted full access to the labs and their work. No way, said CTV. Doping is not the kind of positive story we are looking for. Enough said about where CTV, TSN and the Globe are coming from.
Today’s Globe mentioned the fact that the relay had to change its route to Brantford but they did not bother to do any stories about what the native peoples on the Six Nations Reserve were protesting. They didn’t even cover the protest. When the protest north of Toronto took place a few days ago CTV National News ignored not only the protest but the issues around the protest. I daresay CTV and TSN will continue to ignore the Six Nations story. In fact it looks to me like CTV, TSN and The Globe will continue to ignore any negative stories that pop up between now and the time that CTV, TSN and The Globe lose the media rights to the Olympic Games four years from now.
Let’s hope CBC gets the Olympic rights back sooner rather than later because history has shown us that while CBC Sports may have glossed over some controversial issues, they did not abandon their journalism. And CBC News never shied away from the negative stories. Brian Williams is a fine reporter and sports journalist. Too bad it looks like CTV and TSN will never allow him to do what he does best.