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Hill GOP Asks NBCU If China Has Tried to Influence Olympics Coverage

NBC Winter Olympics 2022 logo
(Image credit: NBCUniversal)

House Republicans want some answers from NBCUniversal about whether the Chinese government has tried to exert any influence on its upcoming coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics. 

What they want to know includes how much NBCU has invested in the country, and whether the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought any changes to the way the games are covered or advertised.

That came in a letter Tuesday (Jan. 25) from House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio). They also want to know what safeguards the network has taken to ensure no forced labor is used by anyone associated with the coverage.

The legislators did not allege anything untoward but did seek a lot of information to make sure that was the case.

Also: ESPN Won‘t Send Staffers to Cover Olympics in Beijing

“Given China’s history of censorship and government control, and the fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stands to benefit financially from NBCUniversal’s coverage of the games, we are concerned about the extent of influence the [Chinese Communist Party] may have over NBCUniversal’s coverage of the games,” the lawmakers said. 

They argued that as NBCU begins its coverage of the games, viewers had a right to know whether the programming has been influenced in any way by the International Olympic Committee or the CCP.

The legislators want the following information by February 7, though that is after the games have already begun on Februrary 4.  

1. “Please summarize your investment in the PRC.

2. “It has been reported that the IOC included human rights requirements several years ago in the host city contract for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it did not include those guidelines for the 2022 Winter Olympics held in Beijing, China. Has the IOC or the CCP taken any steps to influence your coverage of the games relating to reported human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province? If so, please explain.

3. “Has the IOC or CCP asked you to make changes in how they are covered or advertised on NBCUniversal programming? If yes, please list every instance in which the IOC or CCP requested a change, when the request was made, why the change was requested, if failure to accede to the CCP requests and suggestions would have resulted in negative consequences for your company and if you subsequently abided by their demands and why?

4. “Has the CCP suggested changes to public content displayed on NBCUniversal programming in either the United States or China? If yes, please list every instance in which the IOC or CCP requested a change, when the request was made, why the change was requested, if failure to accede to the CCP requests and suggestions would have resulted in negative consequences for your company, and if you subsequently abided by their demands and why.

5. “As part of your rights to broadcast the games, are you in any way precluded by the IOC or CCP from coverage that would be critical of the government of the PRC?

“Does the government of the PRC or the CCP have the ability to block your broadcast feed to the United States as they deem fit?

6. “Please list any connections your company has with the CCP, including the name of the official within the CCP and the capacity of their role in your organization.

7. “What kind of safeguards do you have in place to ensure that there is no forced labor, specifically in Xinjiang province, used by NBCUniversal or any of your partner suppliers or support services?

8. “Do you believe the CCP privately influenced or pressured the IOC in any way to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing?” 

Asked for comment on the letter and the info request,  NBCU responded by referencing comments last week by Molly Solomon, president, production, NBC Olympics, in a video presentation on coverage plans.

Solomon said that NBCU's Olympics coverage would "provide perspective on China’s place in the world and the geopolitical context in which these Games are being held," while the athletes remained the centerpiece of that coverage.

She pointed out that NBC News has a Beijing-based bureau and that NBC News would be there to cover the news out of China. "we have a record of not shying away from these topics," she said. " Not in 2008, the last time the Games were in China, in Sochi and PyeongChang. And most recently, we covered COVID and the athlete protests in Tokyo. We also plan to have reporters at all Beijing venues. If something happens, we’ll have our own cameras on site.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.