Canada Journalists prepare for "full throttle" approach to Games, no matter the challenges
CBC announces programming details, broadcast team for 2022 Winter Olympics
CBC/Radio-Canada, Canada's Olympic Network, is set to provide comprehensive around-the-clock coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on all platforms with an experienced broadcast team known across the country, and more than 2,400 hours of live content. Broadcasting live from Toronto for 23 hours of daily coverage throughout the entire Games, an award-winning team of commentators and analysts will present the Olympics through five different programs.
Good luck finding a Canadian athlete planning to compete in Beijing who will publicly offer blunt assessments on some of the newsier talking points ahead of the Games.
Strained Canada-China relations? The Peng Shuai situation? Human rights abuses? Unlike previous Games, when hot topics were often discussed, competitors have largely avoided the political conversation when it comes to the host nation.
Don't expect journalists to pull the same punches when they descend on Beijing. Many are licking their chops at the bounty of storylines that await, potential bristling by authorities be damned.
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"I'm going to write and say exactly what I believe should be said as a columnist and as a journalist," said Christine Brennan of USA Today. "I will not go back one iota and I will go full throttle as I always do."
"Bring it on," she added, pausing after each word.
With cybersecurity and data privacy concerns high, many outlets will provide blank laptops and burner phones for their staff during the Feb. 4-20 Games. Reporters are also being encouraged to use virtual private networks where possible.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, an association of Beijing-based journalists, recently stated its concern "about the lack of transparency and clarity" from organizers and the IOC with regards to Olympic-related reporting in China.
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Joanna Chiu, who previously worked as a correspondent in Beijing and now covers Canada-China relations for the Toronto Star, said press freedom in the country is "very low."
"There is a long-standing record of journalists being heavily surveilled and monitored, it definitely happened to me," she said. "Police would know if me and my colleagues had left Beijing.
"Myself and others have been stopped at train stations or when we'd arrive at the place where we planned to do reporting in."
When Beijing last hosted the Olympics in the summer of 2008, reporters could venture out into the large city of about 20 million. That won't be the case this time around.
Media members, like all Games-related personnel, will be limited to a tightly policed "closed loop" bubble due to the pandemic.
Chiu, the author of "China Unbound," which examines the global political impacts of China's rise, said non-Olympic story coverage could result in increased surveillance.
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She added that social media output comes with risks too.
"Chinese laws are vague," Chiu said from Vancouver. "National security laws are vague. Multiple foreign citizens have been detained in China under vague national security charges."
Canada-China relations reached a low point during a nearly three-year standoff over the 2018 arrest of tech executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained in China in apparent retaliation, were released last year after Washington dropped its prosecution of Meng.
Ottawa is also participating in a diplomatic boycott of these Games, citing extensive Chinese human rights abuses, including crimes against its predominantly Muslim Uyghur population and military provocations towards Taiwan.
China also recently drew criticism after Peng disappeared from public view for over two weeks. She wrote in a since-deleted social media post that she was sexually assaulted by a former senior member of the Communist party.
Brennan, who covered the Peng case and is a frequent contributor on CNN and ABC News, said she has criticized China on multiple occasions over her career without issue, including some "scathing columns" during the 2008 Games.
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"The Chinese government's human rights abuses are so appalling," she said in a recent interview from Washington. "If anything, we should ratchet up our journalistic skills. There is no holding back."
Chiu, meanwhile, noted that it's unclear how the government might respond to journalists' takes on sensitive subjects. She said there's "no guidebook" on what you can or can't say to avoid repercussions from Chinese authorities.
"I don't really think they care what we think," Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly said from Toronto. "I think they'll tolerate us. We arrive under the protection of the IOC and the international community.
"The best protection, if anybody is worried about such a thing, is the fact that everybody is watching."
As for the competitors, Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker said the COC has told Canadian athletes they have every right to freely express themselves.
"That was true in Tokyo, it's true in Beijing," he said. "We'll support them in that. What we've also done though is made sure on multiple occasions and through multiple platforms and people, to educate them on local rules, local customs, local practices.
"But also to make sure they're very clear on the ways in which they're allowed to express themselves that are consistent with Rule 50, which is the operative rule under the IOC charter, that the Beijing Organizing Committee has agreed to fully respect and implement. I think that's important."
Rule 50 prohibits any "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" at the Games.
While athletes may choose to keep the focus on their preparation and performance, media members will be tasked with tackling a much wider scope: news, sports, and everything in between.
"We're professionals and that's what we do," Brennan said. "It's all part of our job and even more than that, it's part of our lives.
"This is an adventure of a lifetime to cover the Olympics and to cover sports around the world."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.
With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Donna Spencer and The Associated Press.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
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