CBC Radio embraces censorship because Olympics

As we begin our quadrennial celebration of winter sports (or, more accurately, hockey and some other stuff), I’m hoping that Orangespace readers can help me answer a question that’s been bothering me for a few Olympiads:

What is it about the Olympics that causes otherwise sane people to lose their minds?

I don’t mean the inevitable spike in the non-ironic use of the word “luge” in casual conversation. I get that. People are fascinated by shiny things (see: Bieber, Justin, legal problems of). It’s kind of what we do.

I’m talking about how, for the sake of a two-week international sports festival, intelligent people do and support things that they would never, ever otherwise condone.

Fun fact: As the official Canadian broadcaster of the Sochi Games, the CBC agreed to stop streaming all of its Radio 1 programming outside of Canada. All of it — not just live Olympics coverage. Anyone outside the country (including Canadian expats) who tunes in hears the following:

“Between February 6th and 23rd, CBC Radio 1 live streams will only be available to Canadian audiences due to Olympic rights restrictions. However, our listeners outside Canada can still hear the favourite shows on demand by visiting cbc.ca/radio, or by downloading the CBC Radio app and following the links to their favourite programs.”

That last sentence is a bit misleading. Because their newscasts contain reports about the Olympics, they’ve also stopped producing news podcasts for the duration of the games.

Let that sink in for a moment. The CBC has turned over decisions about how its news and entire Radio 1 network will be distributed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which controls the rights to the Olympics.

The CBC calls it “Olympic rights restrictions,” but let’s not mince words. Letting the IOC dictate how the CBC runs its news and radio operations is nothing less than outside interference in the inner workings of our public broadcaster. While we’re being brutally honest, let’s call the decision to block the Radio 1 livestream and to stop producing news podcasts by its real name: censorship.

This is where the Olympics insanity comes in. Just imagine how Canadians, and CBC journalists, would react if, I don’t know, the NHL told the CBC that they couldn’t livestream an entire network or release news podcasts during the NHL playoffs. The righteous indignation would be palpable.

If any other group on the planet had tried this trick, the CBC’s bright lights would’ve (rightly) huffed about “journalistic integrity” and “the importance of independent media.” As a public broadcaster, Canadians’ trust in the CBC’s journalism is probably its most valuable asset. Yet, they’ve sold that asset (at an undisclosed price), because Olympics.

I can only assume the Conservatives, longtime CBC foes, are trying to figure out how to shoehorn “Olympic” into their name.

The CBC never should have signed this deal. Having signed it, its news operations should have been nowhere near it. As it is, I’m left wondering where the CBC draws the line when it comes to the direct interference of an outside group with its operations. Has the CBC’s commercial relationship with the IOC affected its coverage of an Olympics that, according to the Building and Wood Worker’s International union, already has a body count?

It makes it hard to take seriously, for instance, CBC Radio’s breathless “breaking” story on its 8 a.m. Feb. 7 newscast that the Russians may be blocking Canadian bobsledder Justin Kripps’ website because of some “gay” content. (I’d link to the podcast, but, you know, Olympics).

Gay censorship bad, Olympics censorship OK. Got it? Good.

In a sense, this is just how the IOC rolls. It is one of the nastier international organizations out there. Over the decades, they’ve used the Olympics to prop up history’s most horrific dictatorships, including China’s, the Soviet Union’s and (for Pete’s sake) Nazi Germany’s. For 22 years, from 1980 to 2001, the IOC’s president was literally a card-carrying fascist. And the censorship-friendly group has a long history of demanding strict control over everything even tangentially related to the Olympics. The CBC is just its latest victim.

But a willing victim, one that paid millions for the honour, even if our public broadcaster won’t tell us exactly how much. I’m curious to know what the going rate is for a public broadcaster’s integrity. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we now know what type of organization the CBC is, we’re just haggling over the cost.

Feb. 13, 2013: Edited to fix broken links.

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