Give the BBC a Gold Medal: A Love Letter to Britain’s Olympic Broadcaster

Even as I've taken my place in the Olympic Stadium, there's been a niggling sense that the best views are from my armchair. Dear BBC, you're even better than the real thing.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Wu Xiaoling / Xinhua via ZUMA PRESS

Members of the British team attend victory ceremony of Equestrian Dressage Team competition, at London 2012 Olympic Games in London, Britain, on August 7, 2012. The British team won gold medal.

My dear BBC,

“Magical” is a word your correspondents have overused in recent days as they’ve struggled, and most often failed, to contain their excitement at Team GB’s golden streak. “It’s going to be a glorious, glorious win. Oh yes! Oh YES!,” screamed your trackside commentator, as Mo Farah crossed the finish line to clinch the 10,000m race. In the studio, your pundits erupted in joy. At the climax of the sprint cycling finals, one of your reporters, so overwrought his voice crackled with emotion, informed viewers that 24-year-old Jason Kenny, overtaking French rival Grégory Baugé to win, was “quite literally on fire.” And when Team GB bestrode the podium to collect Britain’s first-ever gold medal for dressage, and the opening notes of the national anthem sounded, your man on the scene made the following declaration, his voice strangely choked: “I make no apology; we are going to sing.”

(MOREOlympic Highlights in Photographs)

So it has gone, and so it will go until Sunday’s final events: every British win celebrated extravagantly; every loss mourned like a family bereavement. My colleagues, over from the United States to cover the Games, are puzzled. “And they call Americans jingoistic and sentimental? U.S. journalists would never openly root for the home team,” said one. I don’t know what to tell them. The impartiality that you bring to domestic politics and international affairs seems almost entirely absent from your Olympics reporting, even if a BBC spokeswoman insists “we pride ourselves on our balance and objectivity.” She adds that “as a national broadcaster, we’re trying to reflect the mood of the nation.” These apparently contradictory aims combine, says the spokes, to produce “measured actuality.” I’d call it “love, actually.” And let’s be clear: you aren’t just reflecting the mood of the nation—you’re amplifying it.

Your coverage is all the more engaging for that. In your handling of live events, news or sports, the BBC usually offers a window on events so transparent and unadorned that we look through you, rather than stopping to admire your work. Your critics will of course disagree vigorously on this point; they accuse you of showing us the world through a filter of soupy liberalism. Examine the BBC’s output and you’ll find material to support that view but much more to sustain your claims of balance and objectivity, even if there’s at least a touch of Enlightenment thinking in the Charter that defines your “public purposes” as including “sustaining citizenship and civil society,” “promoting education and learning,” and “stimulating creativity and cultural excellence.” You’re also tasked in the Charter with “representing the U.K., its nations, regions and communities” and “bringing the U.K. to the world and the world to the U.K.” Well, you’re certainly doing that with bells and whistles during London 2012.

And that’s not only in cheerleading for the U.K but because you are one of the U.K.’s core institutions and one of its greatest cultural exports and exporters. National broadcasters in many countries are modeled on you; some of their top staff gained their experience with you. Your programs and formats are enjoyed globally. Like Scotland Yard, you represent an international gold standard for what you do, and controversies at home rarely filter through to your admirers overseas. They just wish they had a service of such high quality to complain about.

During the Games’ opening ceremony, your cameras cut away from the march of the Olympians to catch the Queen unawares, apparently bored and staring at her nails. Brits excoriated you for that. Imagine if they had been forced to put up with the iniquities visited on NBC‘s viewers—delays, cuts, the unintentional comedy that erupted when its presenters failed to recognize World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. And the commercial breaks. All those breaks.

Your performance hasn’t been fault-free. There have been moments of national coitus interruptus, as your editors have withdrawn without warning from scenes of high drama to bestow their affections elsewhere. But you’ve also provided live online coverage for all events after the preliminary stages, with illuminating data and useful commentary. Indeed, when your people aren’t too breathless to speak, they’ve been expert and aimiable guides to the proceedings, and for all their open partiality, are unstinting in their praise for the athletes of competitor nations. (Unless, of course, they suspect someone of unfair tactics directed against a member of Team GB. After cyclist Victoria Pendleton was penalized for straying out of her lane during the sprint, the BBC’s commentator called the decision “very, very unjust,” blaming Pendleton’s fault on her Australian rival Anna Meares. “You have to just elbow your competitor and you win.”)

London 2012 has been the best-ever Olympics for women, the first with female competitors representing all countries but for the world’s smallest republic, Nauru, and women’s contests generating at least as many edge-of-the-seat thrills as the men’s events. This has also been the best-ever Olympics for women at the BBC, with some of your finest women presenters given key roles. Among British women to emerge from the Games as national treasures will be not only sports stars such as Jessica Ennis, Pendleton, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell, but also your very own Clare Balding, never less than informed and informative, the televisual personification of your own affectionate nickname, Auntie Beeb. Your departing Director General Mark Thompson has admitted that there are too few Clare Baldings gracing the BBC or, as he put it in this mea culpa for the Daily Mail, “manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes.” His (male) successor could do worse than to start his tenure by signing up Balding and the rest of the London 2012 team for Rio 2016.

The Games are drawing to a close and it’s tempting to try to get to as many live events as possible. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have press accreditation that secures ringside seats and a special pink Oyster card that enables free travel to venues. But even as I’ve taken my place in the Olympic Stadium, there’s been a niggling sense that the best views are from my armchair. Dear BBC, you’re even better than the real thing.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

58 comments
nancyba
nancyba

The argument may go on and on, across the pond, around the world, but I have been a BBC fan since the "80's when, for us expat workers in  the Middle East, the BBC broadcasts were the one TRUE  source of daily news...

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

Business

confidence has dropped to the lowest point this year, falling for the fifth

consecutive month. According to a new business trends report by accountants BDO

LLP, economic prospects in the UK continue to look gloomy as confidence in

manufacturing and services sectors fluctuates. Measuring business performance,

BDO's optimism index has hit a seven-month low The figure has decreased from a

high of 98 in the first quarter of the year and moved even lower than 95, the

index's marker that crucially highlights growth. falling from 93.5 in June to

93.1 in July. The firm's optimism index predicts the economy will contract for

the rest of the year. BDO partner Peter Hemington said: "This month's

figures serve as a stark reminder of the continuing difficulties the UK economy

faces, with zigzagging business confidence undermining the improvement in

confidence that we saw at the start of 2012." In a separate report Lloyds

TSB says the majority of English regions have seen business activity fall in

July. The bank's regional purchasing managers' index showed six out of nine

regions saw a downturn, which Lloyds also attributes to poor performance in the

manufacturing sector. It says the North-East of England saw the sharpest fall

in private sector manufacturing output, the steepest for the area in more than

three-years. Read on ..........It is a

simple thing like tipping the waiter so you get better services later. When we

were in schools the medals did not matter, it was the dad, mom, family waiting

for us to say, “Hey I made it. I won second in the 100 yards race” The only

thing then was to beat the neighbours’ sons in the race and tell all this. At

that time there was no CRM but I guess we were applying this unknowingly Britain congratulates itself for job well done 12 minutes ago LONDON The party of

a lifetime over, Britons woke up and rubbed their eyes to jubilant headlines on

Monday as London said farewell to its Olympic visitors Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I

am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and

philosopher (1803-1882) Language

is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely

embedded and preserved. -Richard C. Trench, poet (1807-1886) I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

 

cumbie6
cumbie6

The clearly jingoistic BBC Olympic Games coverage is only another expression of the arrogant British attitude towards other countries and cultures.  The Brits think that they are very special and unique, and actually  the best in everything, really the center of the universe.  So naturally they are staging "the best Games in history", and winning a gold medal only confirms their "excellence". The BBC biased coverage is only another expression of the typical British arrogance. As an American living in the UK,  I have found  some of the anti-American remarks on the BBC coverage disgusting, and anti-German comments beyond the pale.

In reality the world is very different from the way the Brits perceive it. The UK is today  a relatively backward country economically, technologically, socially and politically. And every day it is falling further behind the more advanced countries such as the US, Germany, Canada, etc. Rooting for their athletes makes the Brits feel better. So let them enjoy their gold medals-they  have nothing else to be happy about because deep down they know that they are an insignificant little island pretending to be an important country.

TimFootman
TimFootman

 Well bog off back to the colonies then.

wimborne
wimborne

Obvious troll is obvious. Literally every sentence in your rambling diatribe is so far off the mark that I think everyone should just feel sad for you. When you can back up literally anything you've said with examples rather than bitter vagaries, come back to me 

some0779
some0779

 >>The Brits think that they are very special and unique, and actually  the best in everything, really the center of the universe.Replace 'Brits' with Yankees and thats what the world thinks about America.

John Harrison
John Harrison

Just a correction, 'Auntie Beeb' is not an affectionate nickname - quite the opposite in fact, it comes from the phrase 'Auntie knows best' and is used by people who believe the BBC portrays a similar arrogance. 

Jonathan Baldwin
Jonathan Baldwin

I don't think the BBC cut away to show the queen bored - the opening ceremony was covered by OBS, Olympic Broadcasting Services, the IOC's in-house coverage producers...

Sara Conrad
Sara Conrad

I've been watching BBC exclusively for the Olympics. NBC thinks I should pay more than I do for their channels and I disagreed. F* NBC

rocketjohn
rocketjohn

The shots and direction from the games are all courtesy of the Olympic Broadcasting Service, not the BBC - the commentators are theirs, but the camera work is nothing to do with them if it's outside a studio or piece-to-camera context.

Tim Almond
Tim Almond

As a Brit, I'm kinda tired on the emphasis on rinky dink sports like dressage getting promoted over more competitive sports, just because a Briton has a chance.

I'm happy for a Briton to win, but I watch sport for the competition.

Deibitto
Deibitto

As a Brit I partly agree. The BBC either underestimates our interest in other athletes or is too scared to test for it.  However if you think other national broadcasters are any better then I think your fooling yourself.  I lived in China during the beijing games and quite literally didn't manage to catch a single event bar the 100m in which the focus wasn't on a Chinese participant.  I've seen similar in Japan and Spain.  As for the US, I would say its different.  Its not that the US media  cheers its own - it simply seems to ignore that others exist! As an example, the LA Times ran a poll on the greatest over Olympian and offered reader s choice of 10 of whom 8 or 9 were American!  

Anita_London
Anita_London

Totally agree with Catherine. It's unprofessional, unethical and unjust to focus on your Home Team and completely ignore what's happening, who's injured, disqualified, set the WR/OR, etc, etc. It's not about US or UK or China or any other country, it's all about sport. People want to see history's been made irrespective of the nation, it's all about sportsmen and their performance and achievements, a team if you like, but  not a flag, singing anthems or chanting "Team GB" in all appropriate and inappropriate moments.  

Catherine you make me feel sane again, I thought it was me.

Thank you really

Empirical_Analysis
Empirical_Analysis

You certainly are not sane. To state the Olympics is not about any country is entirely missing the point. If it were purely about sports and performances, competitors would compete as individuals, not under their own flag and pretty well much every athlete speaks of the pride of representing their country.

As for your comment about ignoring World records and Olympic records would you care to give an example of when one has been ignored?

I can only assume Catherine Mayer claiming American Sports journalists to be  impartial was an attempt at humour, otherwise that more or less sums up the credibility of her piece. Perhaps instead of Time writing an article comparing Ashton Eaton to Usain Bolt, perhaps Jessica Ennis would be worthy of such an article?  She scored the 5th highest Hepthalon score of all time to Eaton's 8th highest Decathlon. Oh hang on, she's not American....

ken reynolds
ken reynolds

All sports available live at all times in GB via the interactive red button or online.

ken reynolds
ken reynolds

All sports are available live at all times on the interactive red button and online. Gold medal for moaning

Ray657
Ray657

Dear Catherine:  "American Journalists would never openly root for the home team?"

Who are you trying to kid?  I've never seen bigger homers than American sports broadcasters.  Frankly it's nauseating to see them fawning over every American athlete at these games and most others, and I've watched a lot of sports in my 71 years.  So your implied notion of balance in American broadcasting and print journalism at athletic events is simply ludicrous.  Let the Brit commentators have their few minutes to remember  over the London Games.   They haven't had much to cheer about lately.

                                                    a Canadian skeptic

                       

                                                                     

                                                                  

Talendria
Talendria

Agreed!  As an American, I'm often embarrassed to watch the Games, because the U.S. media always assumes we'll win the most medals.  They idealize U.S. athletes as if trying to market the next Mary Lou Retton.  It gets old.  While the U.S. has some very fine and deserving athletes, other countries do as well.  I'm very pleased to see the Brits embrace their emotions for once.

saturdaybanana
saturdaybanana

"I'm very pleased to see the Brits embrace their emotions for once."

What does that mean? Are we robots?

nick price
nick price

ad-free  24 channel  uninterrupted  reliable live BBC coverage

christineesteve
christineesteve

Quite frankly, except for the odd expert in their own area of sport (the Redgraves of this world) the BBC commentary has been appalling. Presenters shrieking so you cannot hear a word said, over use of the same similies and adverbs, vacuous celebratory comments  from those who seem to know nothing about anything, the constant repetition of  'at this moment in time' when a nine year old could tell them there are no other moments and do they mean 'now',  the covering of events so that you get the impression that the only athlete taking part in that particular event  is British (long jump coverage a case in point) and having interviewed one exhausted athlete after another then to ask them to 'sum up' what they  have already said. The best thing about is that  the Olympics began all about Big Business interests and the British public has managed to reclaim it back.

Gary O'Shea
Gary O'Shea

Couldn't disagree more. The commentary is so technical that for those who are not aware of how the sport works, it makes it easy for them to understand. And of course the coverage is going to be British-focused: they're serving the British public after all, who incidentally, are after that. If one wants to watch e.g. a German swimmer, then they can just tune into one of the twenty-four streams via the red button or online. It really has been top-notch.

Sardonic_Soul
Sardonic_Soul

When our Sports broadcasting organizations in the colonies grow up, I hope we emulate your outstanding performance with the Olympics.  Your understated presentation LOOKS good because it IS good.  You do not call attention to YOURSELF with narcissistic popinjays preening for the camera, you let the athletes tell their stories of their agonies and their sacrifices through their actions that lead to their victory while gently allowing the defeated a graceful exit to solitary sorrow.   Like  an old master's painting, the undercoat of your presentation supports the glory of the games effortlessly and with great depth.    Your work looks good.. because it IS good.  If Zeus in his Majesty were to decree the games be shown to all mankind, I am confident he would choose BBC to execute his will.  Since he is not available, I am glad your Queen in her infinite wisdom came to the same conclusion.

Tim Boddy
Tim Boddy

"Like Scotland Yard, you represent an international gold standard for what you do"

I was with you until that silly comment, sorry.

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

If you left at that point, you missed  "...moments of national coitus interruptus...".   I was going to leave even earlier on the matter of how American journalists would never root for their own team.

The whole love letter is as silly as the games themselves.  This drivel doesn't even get a bronze from me.

Adam Jeal
Adam Jeal

Anyone who ever accuses the BBC  of 'Soupy Liberalism' OR claims that they are 'balanced' (outside the games coverage) is deluded. They are the mouth-piece and hand maidens in-chief to the right-wing thugs that run our country. Try watching BBC's 'Question Time' for a prime example on how the quality of the so-called 'debate' is non-existent. Every time anything even remotely controversial is said, the host David Dimbleby will quickly interrupt the perpetrator and move on to another subject. The general news coverage is also a joke.

HonkyFronky
HonkyFronky

Right-wing? LMFAO!!!

Adam Jeal
Adam Jeal

 Replying to Gary O'Shea - (your reply button has vanished, so I'm using this).

Which definition of the term 'liberal' are you using? Are you in the US or UK? If US, have you heard of the UK Liberal Democrat party? I can assure you that there is nothing either 'Liberal' or 'Democratic' about them. We constantly hear that the media has a liberal bias. This is pure myth that is perpetuated by conservatives. There is no liberal bias in either the UK or US media, Just as there is no credible left. The left was crushed a long, long time ago. Our mainstream media are about fear, distraction and ubiquitous consumption.

Julian Assange hit the nail on the head when he criticized 'British middle-brow squeamishness'. The BBC typify this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Adam Jeal
Adam Jeal

Yes. Our society like most other so-called western democracies, are controlled by neo-liberal greedbags. Guess what?, they control the media too. The BBC will never do anything truly progressive because they are terrified. They look good only because most other TV is soooo bad. They are all about maintaining the status-quo at any cost.

Gary O'Shea
Gary O'Shea

They're always going to be slightly liberal, Adam. As the saying goes, 'reality has a liberal bias'. Liberal *is* progressive.

NDove
NDove

Yes, right-wing. As in, the broadcaster which spent hours and hours covering the Royal Wedding last year, and the broadcaster which spent hours and hours covering the Royal Jubilee this year. The broadcaster who have that well-known left-wing degenerate Jeremy Clarkson as one of their most prominent employees. 

Damian is correct though - the BBC does try to be generally impartial, they don't always succeed but show me a genuinely impartial broadcast network and I'll show you a flying pig. We are damn lucky to have the BBC. 

Damian Harris
Damian Harris

Sorry Adam but I'm going to have to disagree with you. Watch 10 minutes of Fox or Sky news and you might actually get some perspective. The BBC is one of  the most scrutinised organisations on the planet. It's constantly attacked by the right-wing and, so it seems the left now too.  My biggest criticism of it is that it sometimes doesn't have enough balls too to stand up for itself. It will never please everyone but it tries and in my mind does offer a balanced view. It's not perfect by any means but we're incredibly lucky to have it.

Adam Jeal
Adam Jeal

Fox amp; Sky are so grossly over the top that you'd have to be denser than lead not to see their bias. The BBC on the other hand, are much more insidious because they are so blindly loved and largely unquestioned by the public. There is no such thing as impartiality, EVER!. Just the pretense of it. Media environments swallow us whole and rather than aide perception, they dull it.

Maajid Bashir
Maajid Bashir

Clearly the author didn't watch the Cycling Road Race event. It was a shambles.

Scullerina
Scullerina

Firstly, the coverage is actually provided by the Olympic Broadcast Service so cut aways are not the fault of the BBC.

Secondly I think the coverage has been very broadbased and enthusiastic of other countries performances, particularly the coverage of sport that GB is no longer involved in, on the Red Button.

Finally whilst the supportive, excitable commentating has been fantastic most of the interviews have been terrible 'tell me what went wrong and how bad you feel right now for only getting the bronze?' 'You won the gold but there's this negative thing I can bring up right at this moment and this inane question I can ask about the future.' .... really? Is that really what we want to hear? Most of the crassness is in the phrasing of the questions. Generally the media likes to approach things from a negative point of view (rightly or wrongly). I guess they just don't have the vocabularly of their commentator compatriots to sing the praises of unique and glorious human sporting endeavours on a daily basis.

Melina Smith
Melina Smith

I disagree with most of this. As a non-British person studying in the UK for the summer, I have found this to be the most frustrating Olympics to watch. I respect Team GB and am happy for the amazing things they've accomplished, but it is infuriating to see events cut in the middle, or finals completely ignored in order for the BBC to cut back to their own athletes, replaying the same won events countless times throughout the day, and showing the same interviews over and over when other events are being ignored completely. I've barely been able to see my country, and half the time when I'm watching an event that Great Britain isn't winning, it has been changed. Even today I was watching the women's long jump final, and as soon as the British athlete was knocked out the announcers ADMITTED that they no longer had interest, and failed to show the rest of the final. It's frustrating and disappointing, and I never imagined that watching the Olympics in the host country would the most disappointing TV experience. 

Glover_al
Glover_al

To be honest, the bbc is an organisation funded primarily through British tax payers. Is it not understandable, if not expected, they would be more interested in British prospects?

HonkyFronky
HonkyFronky

You know the little box that comes up on screen that says press the red button for more coverage of the Olympics? Press it or piss back to your own country.

Vila Restal
Vila Restal

Find the  Red Button shaped object and press it.

Up comes continuous coverage of EVERY event.

Available without subscription on every TV in the country since the Digital Switchover .

Tom Horwat
Tom Horwat

We do have the "red button" facility which enables everyone to watch whatever sport they want to, and for as long as they want to uninterupted.

steve
steve

 you have access to the internet? smart phone? why didn't you switch to the dedicated stream of that event?

FrillArtist
FrillArtist

I completely agree. American commentators are just completely inept especially NBC. Always talking about something that has NO relevance to the game at hand. 

"Oh, his father's uncle's cousin daughter died a few weeks ago. This gymnast has been having a hard time coming to terms with it. I just spoke to his teammate's father who said they will be moving to Arkansas to visit their grandmother..."Don't forget those cheesy documentaries they always show. It's not like there aren't tons of games going on at that moment but we want to cut them out so we can show you crap to fill up the space before the next commercial. Besides, you should be glad that we are taking some time out of airing commercials to show you glimpses of tape delayed games.

WHAT A JOKE. NBC - No Brains Channel.

nsr019
nsr019

NBC does not do it well, but not many people appreciate that it has to try to give viewers a crash course narrative to make them care about Olympic athletes.

This isn't like turning on the TV and seeing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, or the Boston Red Sox playing the New York Yankees. The vast majority percent of Olympics viewers have no idea who any of the participants are -- it's basically watching American flags versus not-American flags. For an event like gymnastics, watching five Americans compete without the base knowledge that Girl X owns a pony and Girl Y's mother died last year would get confusing and downright boring for all but hardcore gymnastics fans.

Without these fluff pieces interjected every 10 minutes, watching the Olympics would be like tuning in to an Australian broadcast of a rugby game -- it's hard enough to watch a sport you don't know without the commentators throwing around names and stats that are even more meaningless without context.

Talendria
Talendria

I get what you're saying, but maybe they could dial back on the superlatives.

FrillArtist
FrillArtist

"it has to try to give viewers a crash course narrative to make them care about Olympic athletes."

No. They don't have to try to give us a narrative. All they have to do is give us vital information pertaining to their event and what they are doing at that time. "Trying to make us care" while ignoring the event going on at that time is not good commentary.

NBC has this creepy trend of trying to infuse sob stories in anything they do. Watch some of their competition shows like the Voice and America's Got Talent.

"it's basically watching American flags versus not-American flags".

This right here sums up the American mentality. I'm sure to a lot of yanks, this is how they see the world: 

http://www.frigginrandom.com/w... "commentators throwing around names and stats that are even more meaningless without context."

Context of what? Context that the gymnast is currently attending so-so high school and has decided to go the prom with Jake?? Switch to something besides NBC like the BBC and see how "context" is handled.

Greer Nicholson
Greer Nicholson

I am not sure I completely agree with you. Clare Balding is terrific. But I have seen too many BBC commentators - not Clare - being negative about the appearance of women competitors. They don't require male competitors to be attractive, but they do seem to require that from the women.

Equally, it feels the BBC is too stretched across too many platforms. The coverage on BBC 3 has included some presenters who didn't seem to know anything about the sports they were discussing. Clare is magnificent. Many of the others seem more worried about their hair than their facts.

 

lindelon
lindelon

Greer, I haven't come across anything along those lines - it would be interesting to know where you'd come across such comments. 

I feel that, as mentioned in the article, the refreshing thing about the Olympics coverage has been precisely the avoidance of any superficial body-fixated commentary. Happy (albeit slightly disappointed) to have my opinions realigned, though... 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,269 other followers