Athletes, organisers and a succession of disability rights activists spoke out against the US broadcaster NBC today, amid growing controversy over its coverage of the Paralympic Games.
The company, which owns TV rights to the world’s second largest sporting
occasion, prevented Americans from watching Wednesday’s opening ceremony, and
has decided not to screen a single minute of live coverage of any event.
Instead, NBC will screen a total of four 60-minute highlight packages on one of its most obscure cable TV channels. On the afternoon of September 16, a week after the Games have ended, it will finally give network TV viewers a chance to watch the action from London, when it screens a 90 minute highlight package.
The lack of coverage marks a stark contrast to offerings in other developed nations. In the UK, Channel 4 is screening 150 hours of live coverage. In Australia, viewers will get roughly 100 hours.
NBC’s lack of coverage was today branded “disappointing” by Aimee Mullins, the chef de mission of the US Paralympic Team, and “really, really appalling” by the UK Disabled People’s Council.
Philp Craven, the President of the International Paralympic Committee, said it was “about time they caught up,” adding “I'm very disappointed for the athletes and I'm also very disappointed for the hundreds of millions of people who live in North America.”
The broadcaster's approach is at odds with the fact that the US has the third largest team in London. Many of its members are military veterans who were injured serving their country, a demographic which US corporations upset at their peril.
Damon Herota, an IT consultant from Florida who has launched an online campaign calling for better coverage of the Paralympic Games told reporters that NBC’s policy was: “a sign of disrespect, especially to those military veterans who are competing. Attitudes are supposed to have changed since the days of Vietnam, when veterans were ignored. What message does this send?”
In response, the broadcaster argues that its coverage of this year’s Paralympics represents an improvement from Beijing, when viewers got just a single 90-minute highlight package. It also has agreed to place daily footage of the Games on a YouTube channel.
Either way, its failure to show the Games live is at least in keeping with the network’s policy during the Olympic Games, when it forced network TV viewers to wait until evening prime time to watch the most important events. By then, the results had been known for hours – often because they had already been announced on NBC’s own news programmes.
The network was also criticised for incessant ad breaks, repeated commentary blunders, and misleading editing of events such as the women’s team gymnastics, when a Russian competitor’s crucial mistake was cut from the broadcast, giving viewers the impression that the one-sided event was going to the wire.
During the London closing ceremony, NBC meanwhile delivered a final insult to US audiences by suddenly halting its coverage. An announcer said that if viewers wished to catch the end of the ceremony, they must first sit through an hour-long screening of the pilot of a badly-reviewed sitcom it wished to promote.