One in three Americans watched the Super Bowl this past weekend setting a new record for viewership. I don’t know the numbers for Canada but I do know we were offered a very different production. I’m sure you are all thinking about the U.S. commercials that we never got to see during the game, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Canadians watched a four or five hour promo for the Olympic Games with a little football thrown in to keep us interested. Overkill? I think so. Couldn’t CTV sell any advertising? I almost longed for another Rogers or Bell ad, even the ones I had seen 200 or 300 times during the past week.
I know CTV has the right to shill for their huge investment in the Olympics. It’s the unrelenting repetition and boosterism I resent.
What’s worse, in fact much worse is that CTV and The Globe and Mail have sold out their news departments to sell the Olympic Games. If you watched CTV News about an hour after the football game you saw Lloyd Robertson, a rare sight on any weekend, lead the CTV National News with two outrageously non-stories from Vancouver. His first offering on the growing excitement and Olympic readiness of the host city and even more outrageous, his second story on the excellent nightlife in Whistler.
After leading the news with two non-stories it would be fair to ask whether there was any news anywhere in the world on Sunday. In fact there were a couple of major stories that had to be put on the back burner while the sales pitch was offered. There was a major explosion at a power plant in the U.S. that killed at least five people and may have injured dozens more. In Canada a major fire destroyed CTV’s own Ottawa television station, CJOH, taking with it all of CTV’s local archives. Hey neither story is Haiti but they are stories.
A CTV viewer could not tell you if anything else happened in the world because it was back to Lloyd with a softball interview with one of the heads of the Vancouver Olympic Committee to sell some more. In a few minutes of valuable news time we found out how great the games were going to be and what a wonderful job our boys and girls were doing to make sure everything would go off without a hitch.
Ignored or given shirt shrift on this night was an important election in Ukraine that could bring Kiev and Moscow closer and turn the country away from the West. The same for the shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Holland that was providing medical isotopes. A reactor that was vital to the treatment of cancer patients in Canada and the rest of the world because our own Chalk River facility is closed for repairs. Forgive me if I think those stories are more important than the night life in Whistler.
While CTV News was busy ignoring the news, Canada’s national newspaper was also busy selling the Olympics. In a very small front section of just 14 pages on Monday, there were two full page ads, two pages for editorials, letters and op-ed pieces, yet The Globe found room for seven Olympic stories on the remaining eight pages including such deeply important prose as a front page piece on the fact that the athletes are arriving in Vancouver and a pithy item with pictures and descriptions of a new method of hardening snow on Cypress Mountain.
It was the Toronto Star a few days earlier that picked up on a report of new methods of gene doping that WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) is preparing to detect at these Olympics. WADA is based in Montreal and was the pet project of a Canadian, Dick Pound. Yet neither The Globe nor CTV reported on this aspect of the games. I’m sure they believe the in house torch relay is far more relevant and newsworthy than the possibility of cheating. Or do they?
The truth is that CTV and The Globe have whitewashed anything negative since they paid their millions for the right to broadcast the games. The corporate bosses made the decision that only positive stories will be published or aired. It’s a complete abdication of their role as important news sources in Canada. It’s okay to flood the airwaves with commercials for the games. It’s okay for the sports departments to push the athletes and their “own the podium” mantra. But the front section of The Globe and CTV National News have to cover all the Olympic news, bad and good. So far they have not.
Luckily CBC News has not shied away from covering what has become a CTV event. If there is any negative news from Vancouver or from the games I suggest you watch CBC to see it. If you want to read about it pick up The Toronto Star or The National Post.
In past Olympics CBC News was pretty much exempted from shilling for the I.O.C (the International Olympic Committee) and was free to cover the negative with the positive. This time around it looks like Lloyd will be muzzled by his bosses. I hope the games go well, I hope Canadians win a truckload of medals, but if anything goes wrong, don’t expect CTV or The Globe to lead the coverage.