Keeping Score

For Sochi’s Sake, NBC Can’t Ignore Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws

How much time will the network devote to reporting a controversial policy?

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Luke MacGregor / REUTERS

Demonstrators during a protest against Russia's new anti-gay propaganda law, outside Downing Street in London on Aug. 10, 2013

Any TV network airing major sporting events, by nature, faces a conflict of interest. You pay millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast big events, so there’s little economic incentive to report news, or air programming, which reflect badly on the games you’re endlessly promoting. And that also ticks off your business partners.

A decade ago, for example, the NFL famously threw a fit over a fictional ESPN series called Playmakers, whose scripts included pro football players smoking crack and swiping painkillers from a child with cancer. Under pressure from the league, ESPN pulled the series. To the network’s credit, ESPN’s news-gathering unit has aggressively reported on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball (ESPN airs lots of baseball games), football concussions (back in 2011, ESPN renewed its Monday Night Football contract for $15.2 billion, through 2021) and other issues.

NBC is facing similarly tough issues in the run-up to next year’s Sochi Olympics, for which, as the sole broadcaster of the games, it paid a serious sum for network rights. The controversy stems from a bill passed on June 11 in Russia’s lower house of parliament banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” which is nominally designed for “protecting” children (Vladimir Putin signed it into law on June 30). What exactly that means remains murky, but without question the law stigmatizes gays in Russia. As the New York Times reported in a front-page story on Monday, news articles about homosexuality and gay rights in Russia now come with a disclaimer: “This article contains information not suitable for readers younger than 18 years of age, according to Russian legislation.” Also reports the Times:

Despite the breathtaking wealth and vibrant culture in the metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia remains a country where discrimination and even violence against gay people are widely tolerated … Few gay people in Russia openly acknowledge their sexual orientation, and those who do are often harassed. When some gay people protested the propaganda law by kissing outside the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, police officers stood by and watched as the demonstrators were doused with water and beaten by anti-gay and religious supporters of the bill. An overwhelming 88% of Russians support the gay-propaganda ban, according to a survey conducted in June by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center.

The anti-gay legislation has added to the tension between the U.S. and Russia, which was already sky-high because of Russia’s refusal to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden from Moscow (Russia gave Snowden temporary asylum in early August). Last week, President Obama canceled a September summit meeting with Vladimir Putin: in both an interview with Jay Leno that aired last Tuesday and in a press conference last Friday, Obama addressed the law. “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” Obama said during a Friday press conference.

(MORE: Gay Olympian — Let’s Go to Sochi, and Speak Out)

So how does NBC, which in 2011 paid the International Olympic Committee (IOC) $775 million for television rights to the Sochi Olympics, and another $3.6 billion for the 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics, handle this story? Over the past week, the network has certainly given it more attention, as President Obama’s comments thrust the law into the news cycle. NBC Nightly News and the Today Show had barely covered the issue from the time of the law’s passage through Aug. 5, according to Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group. But since last Wednesday, both programs have done several segments on Russia’s legislation; Nightly News aired one on Monday night. And during the network’s coverage of the World Track and Field Championships on Sunday, NBC aired a 3½ minute feature that covered the global opposition to the law, and included comments from American diving legend Greg Louganis, who is gay, opposing an athlete boycott of the Games. The track world championships are being held in Moscow.

NBC News has written several pieces about the legislation on its website, and NBCOlympicTalk, an NBC Sports blog, had six pieces on the issue from July 26 to Aug. 10. MSNBC dedicated about 21 minutes of programming to the law between July 18 and Aug. 5, while CNN had over 67 minutes, and Fox News didn’t mention it, according to Media Matters.

NBC has critics like Media Matters at its heels. And the story is only getting bigger, and more serious. After conflicting public statements from the IOC, which initially said the law would not apply during the Olympics, and the Russian government, which insisted it would, Russia’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that, in no uncertain terms, the law would apply in Sochi. The statement, though, made a calculated effort to put the onus on the athletes and spectators. “The law-enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully,” said an Interior Ministry in a statement. Said Alexander Zhukov, head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee: “If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken. People of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the Games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever.”

In other words, gay athletes and fans can be seen at the Olympics, just not heard. The law puts behavioral restrictions on a targeted group of people. It discriminates.

NBC will face increasing pressure to cover this story extensively, and report critically on the IOC, its business partner. Will the IOC accept such a discriminatory law? In the Olympic Charter, the sixth “fundamental principle of Olympism” 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.” Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter also bans political and religious demonstrations at Olympic venues. So the IOC does not like discrimination. But athletes cannot speak up about a law that is clearly discriminatory. “We always say to our athletes, ‘We do not want any demonstrations in one or the other direction,’” Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC member from Norway, told the Associated Press. “‘Please, you are there to compete and behave. Please don’t go out on the Net or in the streets.'” NBC will have to question, and criticize, this glaring IOC hypocrisy.

An NBCUniversal spokeswoman says the network, before and during the Olympics, has a track record of covering big news events, like the bid-rigging scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, security concerns in Athens in 2004, and criticisms of China’s human-rights record in 2008. Russia is not the only Olympic host with an oppressive human-rights history. Once the Olympics start, NBC has to strike a balance: many viewers tune into the Olympics for an escape. They just want to see the snowboarding, skiing and human-interest profiles accompanied by the appropriate piano music. But mere lip service to the host country’s controversies is a disservice. “I cannot tell you how we’re going to cover it,” NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said about the Russia controversy, while speaking at a Television Critics Association event in late July. “If it is still their law and it is impacting any part of the Olympic Games, we will make sure that we acknowledge it and recognize it.”

The Olympics are difficult enough to cover, and NBC has often come under fire for inelegant actions like airing tape-delayed events in prime time. But now, thanks to Russia’s public policy, the network is facing its toughest test yet.

MORE: Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws: How a Dutch Activist Got Caught in the Crosshairs

(CORRECTION: Story updated to properly reflect the minutes – not hours – of programming MSNBC and CNN dedicated to the law between July 18 and Aug. 5,  according to Media Matters).

67 comments
NathanSams
NathanSams

Good grief.......it's impossible to put into words an argument that will not offend someone in the world.  Every time I think the world is making a step forward in equal rights and humanitarian principles something comes along that dashes my hopes for the progression of the generations to come and inherit the earth after we are all gone.........It should not matter who you love as long as the one you love is human...

dwarfe9
dwarfe9

It's not too late for the Olympic Committee to address changing the location to a very recent past city. I am sure the world would support such an action as well as the majority of athletes. I find it appalling that we would even consider going! It's time for the world to take a stand on the way we humans treat one another. It's a very small planet!

cHarLeSpdX
cHarLeSpdX

not for Sochi's sake, but for the sake of civilization! No steps backward to 1936 no matter how much homophobe Putin or his people may think that is the way to go.

Babcock
Babcock

In 2008, China was allowed to hold the summer Olympics. Their own record of human rights was not too stellar. In China, Christians were being jailed and persecuted. Promoting Christianity was against the law. Holding meetings away from the "official" churches was against the law. I suppose that laws didn't even protect its gay citizens. Now 6 years later, we hold Russia to a higher standard. If Beijing was OK, Sochi should be as well. We are just punishing athletes not Russia. And another question; is it OK to punish Christians but not OK to punish the gay community? In this case, it isn't even against the law to be gay but to promote it. In a perfect world, we would have more tolerance towards others but in our western view, it seems some causes are put on a higher pedestal than others.

tsar_simply_tsar
tsar_simply_tsar

President P*!utin dweeb pike 21kg, Vice President D*ick Che!ney in hunting shot friend .

richards0660
richards0660

All Russian men are bisexual.  With a little vodka in them, they'll make love to men.  Everybody knows this.  Russian women fear this because if men turn to men, they will abandon women.  Perhaps Russian women need to start being better wives.

richards0660
richards0660

Let's not forget the role of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Orthodox Church is a corrupt organization which pays bribes to politicians.  Orthodox priests are very wealthy and live in large mansions and have beach homes. 

richards0660
richards0660

Russia is a nation of drunks and sleazeballs.  Laws are made by drunken politicians.  Russian women are very homophobic because they fear the power of men and male sexuality.

richards0660
richards0660

Russia stinks.  Boycott all Russian businesses.  The whole world should boycott Russia.

glennra3
glennra3

What will Russia do if two athletes protest the law by kissing on the medal stand, à la the Black pride protest in Mexico in 1968?

Deborah1313
Deborah1313

If world leaders won't lead on this issue, then maybe they can be turned into good followers.

Urgently needed is a clear and focused message by the third sector, which can and will step into the void:

1) Sochi must be held accountable for a gross breach of its's contract with the IOC (post hoc, anti-gay legislation);

2) Lawful, unhampered protests will not be possible at Sochi (due to Russian and IOC laws and regulations); violence and arrests are likely responses to protests on the streets of Sochi;

3) the Olympics are the most symbolic and political of Games and Olympic host cities are held to higher standards;

4) the Games can be moved (to Vancouver);

5) the Games MUST be moved: Sochi has destroyed its own "brand" and to avoid any whiff of collaboration or bystanderism (not to mention probable violence, deportations and arrests), all supporters of human rights, like the erstwhile corporate sponsors of Paula Deen, are obliged to "dump Sochi."


glennra3
glennra3

How did the Russian's get the Olympics in the first place? These people haven't even mastered the flush toilet, yet.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Obama declared the protection of the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people a priority of Foreign Policy of the USA.

US President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex marriages: "At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC News on May 9.

Pope Benedict XVI: Same-sex marriage undermine «the future of mankind»

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his protest against same-sex unions, calling them manipulation of the God-given identity, reported in the Vatican. «The provision of gay rights marry and adopt children undermines the foundations of traditional family consisting of mother, father and children,» said the Pontiff at the traditional Christmas address to the Ministers of the Vatican

arvay
arvay

 Science has established that homosexuality is not chosen, that sexual orientation is inborn, and cannot be "cured." Homosexual behavior exists in animals as well as people, it's part of the natural world. Teaching these facts should be part of any normal ciruicullum. 

Russia joins Uganda and various Muslim fanatic states in denying what science reveals and criminalizing gay people. Did Russia abandon Lysenko only to embrace this kind of anti-scientific nonsense? Did Russian soldiers die fighting Chechen fanatics, only to allow fanatics to write laws their defeated foes would approve? 

Russia risks becoming an international laughing-stock over these atavistic attitudes and laws. 

Seems to me Putin has made an alliance with the Slavophiles and the Orthodox church. This will drag Russia backwards, not into the future. At what point will they pass a law declaring evolution illegal? That the earth is flat, like in the Bible? 

Over the centuries, Russia has given may geniuses and great thinkers to the world. This throws mud on their legacy.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Russia is the largest country on this "very small planet", and much older than USA.

dwarfe9
dwarfe9

@Babcock I certainly do not enjoy the display of overt public affection from anyone, straight, gay, that is something that should be left at home. I do however enjoy knowing that two people are in love with each other, straight, gay, it doesn't matter (and one does not have to have a complete mouth tonging to prove that.) There is nothing wrong with two men or women that care for one another to publicly display their affection by holding hands, embracing, even kissing. If it is done in front of children, that's fine too. I think it's great for children to experience love in all forms. It's not something they can "catch"! 


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Only a complete pervert says about the promotion of homosexuality among children, as the highest standard. Sure, most Americans don't agree with you. First you need to observe basic standards. The United States should abolish the death penalty,  close Guantanamo, to observe the Constitution inside the country and international law outside the United States.

Clarknt67
Clarknt67

@BabcockThe thing is, just like today on Sochi, there were lots and lots of protests about China on human rights. Did you somehow miss that? I'm not really sure why it has to be set up as Christian vs. Gay thing for you. 


This gay person says it isn't OK to punish Christians based on their religion. 

Do you as (I presume) a Christian say it isn't OK to punish gays for their orientation?

How about we cover each other's backs?

tsar_simply_tsar
tsar_simply_tsar

@glennra3

Sweetheart.Russian Gay will throw in the provocateurs blue piece of sh*it(from foam plastic)

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Nothing will happen in this case. But if you start to molest little children and scream to them that you are gay, then you'd be lucky if the police arrives on time.

Babcock
Babcock

@Deborah1313 Somehow China (who has a history of persecuting Christians and whose own anti-gay agenda is not so stellar) was allowed to host the Olympics and we are promoting a change of venue away from Russia. Is persecuting Christians a lesser crime than not allowing gays an opportunity to find under 18 converts?

tsar_simply_tsar
tsar_simply_tsar

@glennra3

Sweetheart , so you russophobe.Phobia mean coward , chicken ,enuresis ,encopresis

aaa.. therefore you're perfectly using the toilet

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@glennra3

I don't care what tricks you mastered with your boyfriend.
In Russia it's not common to have sex in the toilet 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The head of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the United States, the 52-year-old Katharine Jefferts Schori, who became the first woman to head this Church called homosexuality is God's Gift. According to her, some of the rules in the Bible are already out of date.  

on June 5, 2011 turned 30 years from the day that the United States was the first case of the disease of homosexuals with AIDS. Since then, the disease has claimed the lives of about 30 million people. Approximately the same number is a carrier of the infection.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The spiritual management of Muslims of Crimea: «Same-sex relations are forbidden in Islam. Any relationship that lead to sexual relations of a man with a man or woman and woman is sin. Islam considers same-sex relations are not only as one of the major sins, but also something that's contrary to human nature, as a disease of the human soul. Such people in need of treatment, but not in the promotion of»

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

«We see a great danger in trying to legalize same-sex marriage in a number of countries», - said his Holiness Patriarch Kirill

tsar_simply_tsar
tsar_simply_tsar

@arvay

<<Science has established that homosexuality is not chosen>>

Science has established that kleptomania is not chosen,so you need to legalize kleptomania?

glennra3
glennra3

@Sibir_Russia 

Then they should start acting like a respectable member of the world community instead of a nation of second rate thugs.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@dwarfe9@Babcock 

During Obama's presidency the USA has not expanded its international legal obligations in the humanitarian field and still participates only in three out of nine core human rights treaties. The Americans have not so far ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (only Somalia and South Sudan has not also acceded to it). The main outstanding issue is an abhorrent Guantanamo prison. President B. Obama sanctioned indefinite and extrajudicial detention and the resumption of military tribunals.

Babcock
Babcock

@Clarknt67 @Babcock And that is the point! Protest yes, change the venue no. 

The last major pissing match with Olympic boycotting happened when America boycotted Moscow and the Soviet boycotted Los Angeles. Who did it hurt; the super powers? No, it hurt a generation of athletes. There were 12 years between normal Olympic games. Some young people who prepared themselves for years never experienced their dreams. Those that won during those boycotted Olympics probably felt their medals were cheapened versions since they never competed against all eligible athletes.

Human rights are important to me; all human rights. How the IOC picks some of these nations is a wonder to me but thats the politics of the Olympics. But can it be said that perhaps, some positive changes come as a result of the Olympics coming to town? I don't know. I haven't been to China before or since the Olympics. Are their discriminated experiencing a reprieve? Will it have a positive affect on Russians?

From where I sit, I am only looking at the thousands of athletes that have spent a good deal of their life to shine. There are Russians, Americans, Germans, Italians, and athletes from all corners of the world. Some will be Christian, some Muslim, some gay and some atheist. Moving the Olympics to another venue will affect everyone in one way or another and not for the good. The first thing I would suspect is Russia will pull their athletes out of the competition and that would be a sad thing for us all.


glennra3
glennra3

@Sibir_Russia 

EVERY nation in the world has laws against molesting children (the majority of cases which, by the way, are perpetrated by HETEROSEXUALS). 


The Russian law that make homosexuals second class citizens is NOT about molesting children. It is a ban on publicly acknowledging your sexuality. Holding hands or kissing in the presence of children could get you arrested. Writing a letter to the editor can land you in jail if you simply declare that homosexuals are people, equal to everyone else.


I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that your lack of English is the reason you are misleading people about this law.

richards0660
richards0660

@dakinsky What is propaganda?  I could call you propgaganda.  Maybe we should ban you.

glennra3
glennra3

@tsar_simply_tsar @glennra3 

That isn't what phobia means, but I'll cut you some slack since you are using a Russian-English translation program.


Welcome to the world of 21st c. technology. It must be something new and exciting for you, as a Russian. The last time I was in Russia (2000) a clerk in a bookstore rang up my purchase with an abacus. I'm not kidding - an abacus. I spent about 500 rubles (less than $20) and they were so excited I think they were going to close the shop for the day. 

The reason I mention the bathrooms is that for a supposed modern country, Russia has the plumbing facilities of a third world nation. The pipes are too small to accommodate toilet paper, so Russians keep a pail next to the commode for used toilet paper. Also, they don't use toilet seats, preferring to stand and squat on the toilet. Often the "toilet" is little more than a drain in the floor.


I left Russia thinking we Americans were duped if we ever thought these folks were worthy of being Cold War rivals. It doesn't surprise me that the country is one of the most homophobic in the world. Russians have very little experience with tolerance of any kind.


glennra3
glennra3

@Sibir_Russia @glennra3

How typically Russian to come back with a homophobic slur.

Russia hasn't made anything the world needs or wants for decades (even their vodka is second rate), but they are proudly a leading producer of hate.



TPAKyle
TPAKyle

@Sibir_Russia  And yet you completely miss his Holiness' heightened sense of fashion which gives him the poise and confidence to wear that fabulous hat!

I suggest you google "university of georgia homophobia study" to better understand why you feel the way you do about gays and lesbians.

Have a nice day.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@tsar_simply_tsar@arvay 

Psychologists of the USA and Canada are for the legalization of pedophilia When discussing the law about pedophilia in the canadian Parliament in people with mental disabilities in sexual found defenders, who called pedophilia "sexual orientations on a par with homosexuality". And in the United States, meanwhile, there is a special organization, which fights for the legalization of pedophilia.

Сanadian psychologists are not alone in his views about pedophiles.

In the USA there is the organization of "B4U-ACT", which purpose is legalization of pedophilia, informs Lifesitenews.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/academic-conference-seeks-to-normalize-pedophilia

The organization consists of many respected psychologists from Harvard, the University of Illinois and Louisville. They called pedophiles "people who involve minors" and claim that criminal prosecution of such individuals "unscientific". Representatives of "B4U-ACT", as well as their canadian-minded, believe pedophilia sexual orientation.

http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue12396.html

 

arvay
arvay

@tsar_simply_tsar @arvay 

False analogy.

Unlike kleptomania, homosexuality has no negative social effects. And research shows that the children of gay couples do as wells or slightly better than the children of straight parents. 

arvay
arvay

@Sibir_Russia @arvay

Ah,  your illiterate remark identifies you as sympathetic to those bearded thugs I saw in a recent documentary on the P+ssy Riot affair. I rejoice in the fact that their activities have made the glorious Patriarch say "p+ssy" maybe a thousand times.

More seriously, these thugs had T-shirts emblazoned with SS-type skulls plus Orthodox images -- a perfect match for the traitors who took the Nazi side in the Great patriotic War. 

The current Russian government, in addition to encouraging these primitives, also allows Cossack groups wearing SS skulls and eagles to operate freely. This smears the honor of the Cossacks and the majority of them who stayed loyal -- but makes a perfect mach with the fascist Orthodox hooligans the government tolerates. 

Stalin was correct when he worked for the obliteration of religion. Christianity and Islam, equally. he made some mistake, and unfortunately did not succeed in this important mission.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@TPAKyle@Sibir_Russia 

The Obama administration supports"Muslim Brotherhood"who kill homosexuals in Egypt.

Decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of February 14, 2003 the "Muslim Brotherhood" is recognized as a terrorist and it is prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation. http://www.religare.ru/print5347.htm

TPAKyle
TPAKyle

@Sibir_Russia @tsar_simply_tsar @arvay Love the anti-gay propaganda sites you get your "facts" from.  You've just demonstrated conclusively that you're a paranoid delusional with a rather stunning tin foil cap.  You may adjust now.

It's viewpoints like yours that are winning equality for gays and lesbians... many thanks!

arvay
arvay

@dakinsky @arvay @Sibir_Russia 

These neo-Nazis and others are tolerated by the Putin government. They and you sh*t on the graves of the Red Army soldiers who defeated fascism. 

arvay
arvay

@dakinsky 

Dear dimwit: TIME was delaying the posting because of the word, so I altered it. BTW, there is no God.