Here are three things that NBC prevented their public from being able to watch on network television so far this Olympic Games: live footage of the opening ceremony; live footage of Saturday's swimming showdown between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte; live footage of the USA men's basketball "dream team."
A fourth thing they do not want people to see is the email address of Gary Zenkel, the executive responsible for this shambles. And a fifth thing is my Twitter feed, which over the weekend contained a couple of dozen occasionally uncouth observations about their coverage, several of which were accompanied by the trending hashtag: "#NBCfail."
As a journalist, you know you are doing your job properly when you manage to upset rich, powerful and entitled people who are used to getting their own way. And you know you've really got under their skin when they pursue censorship, the avenue of last resort since time immemorial.
The internet era is meant to be different, though. Thanks to Twitter, and Google and every other medium dedicated to the free exchange of information, the world is supposed to have changed. That's why the Arab Spring happened; it's why Justin Bieber happened. And its why, regardless of its comparative frivolity, NBC's successful attempt to suspend a journalist from a social networking site sets an ugly precedent.
Twitter's guidelines forbid users from publishing what they call "private" information, including "private email addresses". There is plenty of sense in this. But I did not Tweet a private email address. I Tweeted a corporate address for Mr Zenkel, which is widely listed online, and is identical in form to that of tens of thousands of those at NBC.
I was not contacted by NBC or Twitter before my account was suspended. If they had dropped me a line, I might – might! – have quietly deleted the offending Tweet. Instead, they wandered into a PR controversy which has resulted in hundreds of thousands more people being made aware of its existence. Like any right thinking-person, I take the issue of online bullying seriously. I would hate for anyone to come to harm as a result of something I uploaded to the internet. But I'm at a loss to see how a bit of forthright correspondence from a disgruntled public could be anything more than a minor annoyance to a power-broker of Mr Zenkel's lofty status. I'm still awaiting a detailed explanation from Twitter as to why my account was immediately suspended. On the face of it, their reaction seems heavy-handed.
As for Gary Zenkel, he is supposedly a grown-up, with a salary, and ego to match. His TV network has decided to delay broadcasting key Olympic events until Prime Time on the grounds it hopes to make more money from advertising. NBC surely knew viewers would be upset by this. If it now displeases Mr Zenkel to get emails from those rightly-angry customers, then he is surely in the wrong job.
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