in Communication Forum 2006: Global Olympiad, Chinese Media, National Center for Radio and Television Studies, Communication University of China and Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania (Beijing, July 2006)
Since their inauguration in 1896, the Modern Olympic Games have been researched through various academic traditions. With the formalisation of cognate research areas such as media, cultural studies, and sport and leisure studies in the 1970s, social research into the Olympics has developed steadily. Anthropologists and sociologists have considered the Games to be a rich source from which to study the playing out of national identities and cultural politics. Often referred to as the biggest event in the world, the Olympic Games has become a site for historic political expressions, such as the time in Mexico (1968) when athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested the treatment of African Americans in the USA by raising black-gloved hands on their medal podium.
In recent years, research has focused on social and economic impacts and the role of the media in transforming the Games into a globally shared experience. This research demonstrates that media coverage of the Games plays a vital role in projecting an image of the local host, but that the current structures of Games organisers and media providers undermine the representation of culturally diverse voices. By focusing on reporting the sporting competitions and official ceremonies, the media fails to reflect the particularities of each Olympic festival. As such, the cultural context of the Games, including street activity and other cultural programming, is often lost or misrepresented.
Today, this trend is in the process of transformation with the emergence of alternative and new media, a phenomenon that has evolved since the creation of the first official ‘non-accredited media centre’ (NAMC) at the Sydney 2000 Games. The NAMC is distinct from the accredited media centres (comprising the Main Press Centre and the International Broadcasting Centre), which are reserved only for the official media right-holders under exclusive national arrangements. The main function of accredited centres is to provide facilities and information for the reporting of sporting competitions. In contrast, the NAMCs are open to any media representative (including freelance journalists) and offer a significant amount of material on human-interest stories, local activity groups, and the Olympic cultural programme.
In this context, our paper builds on research from the four most recent Olympic Games where the NAMCs have developed to inquire into how such journalists might transform reporting about the Olympic Games. We consider what stories of the Olympics “non-accredited” journalists tell and what role they play in terms of defining and affecting the meaning of the Games? The issue of defining who is a journalist, what rights they have, how they are served and managed is an important aspect of determining control of the platform. It is also of particular importance to organising committees whose work relies on managing the media. Indeed, the development of new media and a range of ‘Web 2.0’ platforms raises new questions about how the notion of control should be approached in the era of Internet journalism where, potentially, every spectator might be counted as a journalist of the Games.
As the Beijing 2008 Olympics approaches, the future of the non-accredited journalist is in the balance. The non-accredited journalists (along with the unaccredited or ‘citizen journalist’) could present an ideological challenge for the Beijing government generally and for the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) specifically. However, non-accredited journalists – rather than the accredited – could also be crucial at re-positioning Western media within China.