Global Media Newscast: The Olympics and Global Resistance

olympics

When the Olympic Games come to town, often the sounds of patriotic anthems, fanfare and athletic competition are overshadowed by the louder calls for peace, equality and social justice. History has shown that where the International Olympic Committee treads, exploitation, repression and controversy are not far behind. While mainstream media outlets in each host city might not have the freedom to cover these issues, an emerging independent media force consisting of citizen journalists utilizing new media technology is laying the groundwork for an alternative source of Olympic coverage featuring alternative narratives, greater transparency and a more inclusive ethos of community participation in the Games.


The 2010 winter games in Vancouver, BC have been no exception when it comes to Olympic controversy. From the very beginning of the bidding process, through construction, and now into the final stages of preparation, there have been individuals, groups and organized coalitions speaking out against the various social injustices associated with the Games. Questions concerning the explicit agendas, underlying motives and practical operations of the IOC, VANOC and the province of BC have been presented in a variety of forms, but often the narratives of communities affected by the presence of the Olympics have lacked coverage by the global media. We, the viewing public, are presented with stories that are localized and do not make the mainstream news outlets, so it’s difficult to know if the world is aware of what is happening here. Sometimes the real stories only come out after the fact, due to lack of media access, coercion of media outlets by sponsor corporations, or even blatant censorship by the host city and its local chapter of the IOC.

Resistance to the Olympic Games is not just a local issue, but a global one. The most recent example of public dissent in the face of an approaching Olympics was the 2008 games in Beijing, China. Touted as an occasion to celebrate the “new face” of China, the mainstream Chinese press was instrumental in projecting the wholesome image of a unified and modern China to the world. But this sentiment came off as a piece of fancy marketing propaganda when images of shocking police brutality and evidence of mass suppression of Tibetan identity appeared in alternative news sources.

When given the bid for 2008, China promised to work with Tibetans to reach a peace agreement, but as the games approached this did not happen. China’s answer to global pressure from individuals, human rights organizations and foreign governments concerning the unethical treatment of the Tibetan people was to, in essence, sweep the problem under the rug, trying unsuccessfully to crush the revolution with heavy-handed military action and continued repression of communication, mobility and protest. The fact that Tibetan athletes were not allowed to participate in the Games unless they renounced their heritage and claimed to be Chinese citizens speaks volumes to the continued repression of their unique cultural identity and social freedom.

China gave a lip-service commitment to allowing freedom of expression and public organization during the games, but the commissioning of government sanctioned “protest zones” were monitored by the military and kept empty. This did not silence the voice of protesters who used guerrilla tactics to stage high-profile actions in the public eye. Students for a Free Tibet used militant tactics to display banners, stage political performance art and bring global awareness to the plight of repressed Tibetans. They used social media tools to coordinate these actions and document them in a way that could not be censored by the Chinese government; in fact, the coverage that made global news was only a small part of the resistance that took place. Students for a Free Tibet utilized international contacts to broadcast these actions, subverting the national censorship of internet media, or what is being called the “Great Firewall” of China.

The 2000 Sydney Olympic games came under mass scrutiny and resistance by citizens concerned with increasing pressures of corporate globalized forces and the commercial exploitation of natural resources under the guise of Olympic development projects. Leading up to the games an increased police presence and militant suppression of dissent was backed by unpopular restrictive legislation.

The government in essence made it illegal for certain anti-globalization and Olympic watch-dog groups to organize, protest and voice their dissent in the face of a highly exploitive, pervasive corporate ownership of the games. This repression created a need for alternative new media that could be used to broadcast the opinions and censored information regarding the questionable business practices of Olympic sponsors and corporate partners.

Protest groups focused on the global capitalist agenda of the games and issues surrounding environmental destruction, human rights abuses and third world debt. In the lead-up to the games, Sydney experienced massive rent increases, boarding house closures, harassment of homeless people, and the violent suppression of public protest. One week before the games were set to kick off, student protesters organized a peaceful protest at the G20 summit in Melbourne to bring attention to the issue of corporatization of the Games by global commercial parties. This is what happened…

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver are being actively resisted and denounced for a number of reasons. This resistance centers on the use of native land to host the games without the consent of BC’s aboriginal citizens, on land that is considered part of unresolved land claims, centuries old. This issue has, in effect been largely ignored by the government and Vancouver citizens, who consider their claim to BC soil to be undisputed and absolute.

Not only is native land being used to host the games, but exploitive and sensationalistic use of aboriginal culture is being used to promote a kind of cultural diversity that does not in fact exist outside the minds of a few professional Olympic marketers. This picture of a peaceful and tolerant society ignores and in essence negates decades of brutal cultural imperialism and government sanctioned marginalization of aboriginal peoples.

Also highlighted by Olympic resistance are themes of the global capitalist agenda, including homelessness, poverty, ecological sustainability, Social censorship and degradation of freedom of speech, as well as limits placed on freedom of assembly/protest.

Currently in Vancouver, the unification of various new media, web 2.0, citizen journalists and cultural documentarians is taking place. This formation of an inclusive independent media coalition seeks to unite both protesters, supporters of the games and citizen journalists to bring a more accessible, informed and diverse range of media coverage, as well as transparency and alternative narratives to an event that has traditionally been lacking in such. They seek to inform the public, provide diverse content that will entertain, intrigue and reflect the diverse voices of this province.

While many journalists are concerned with differentiation of citizen media from “certified” media sources, likewise, many citizen journalists are concerned with separation of themselves from the active voices of dissent, but ultimately the majority of independent media are viewed by VANOC as an equal threat to the agenda of the Games. Active dissuasion and exclusion of new media from Vancouver Olympic venues are forcing alternative groups to unify and coordinate their efforts and agendas to seek active sites of inclusion and cooperation within the community at large.

Contrary to public misconception, the goal of Olympic resistance groups is ultimately greater than simply stopping the games, or hampering their organization. This is not an issue of disapproval of amateur athletic competition, it does not seek to penalize or condemn competitors or imply complicity with the agenda of this globally unethical corporate institution.

The Olympics provide a platform for increased global awareness of critical issues, from unchecked corporate exploitation, to environmental protection, to aboriginal land claims, to cultural imperialism, to human rights and so on. Resistance groups have done, and will continue to do this by organizing, protesting and opposing the Games, utilizing alternative forms of media to communicate more diverse narratives and supplement mainstream media coverage.

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