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Is a Georgian life worth less than a North American life? A question CTV and NBC need to answer

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As millions of Canadians and Americans (and others worldwide) sat down last night to watch the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, CTV and NBC seem to have made a barbaric and Machiavellian ratings decision to broadcast the Olympic equivalent of a snuff-film.

While CTV and NBC have made attempts to justify their decision to broadcast the death of a Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, one really needs to wonder (little) if the nationality of Kumaritashvili had been Canadian or American, would the network executives have made a different decision.

It's no secret that due to the economic recession CTV/Rogers and NBC stand to lose money on the securing of their respective Canadian and American broadcasting rights to the Vancouver Olympics as adverstising dollars are not projected to be enough to recover their initial investement. CTV made an executive decision to not only broadcast the death of Kumaritashvili on their prime-time opening show but also release their footage to other networks, while making it available for viewing on their website. NBC also decided to broadcast this death video to their American audience.

CTVglobemedia's VP of corporate communications, Bonnie Brownlee, felt that CTV's decision to broadcast the death of luger Kumaritashvili was "proper" and, according to a Vancouver Sun report (an outlet that decided to not feature the video on their website), Brownlee stated "After much consideration we decided to make available the images of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's run."

Imagine, God forbid, if it had been Canadian sledding medal hopefuls Melissa Hollingsworth or Pierre Lueders, or American 'Flying Tomato' Shawn White or downhill skier Lindsey Vonn. Would CTV and NBC have decided to broadcaster their moments death? I think not.

While these are difficult questions, these are the questions that CTV and NBC should be made to answer (not rewarded) for their beyond callous decisions.

It is important to point out the hypocrisy of network television decisions. Again, I surmize that if the nationality of this luger had been Canadian or American, CTV and NBC would likely not have aired the death footage, as these same networks have often dedided to not broadcast more important stories or images of war, or of Canadian and American soldiers dying in Afghanistan or Iraq, or innocent civilians in said countries. Show all, or show none. But don't dehumanize some, and humanize others.

[On another matter: As to VANOC, the IOC, and the International Luge Federation (the groups responsible for the design and sanctioning of the sledding course, and today, the reopening of the course with a modest raising of the wall in the corner in question), why haven't their technicians and engineers figured out, what many lay men and lay women have already, that they need to cover the area above the wall, with a protective additional wall of plexiglas, plywood, or even a sturdy net so that a sledder who jumps the wall would continue to bounce forward, not simply be stopped dead in their tracks from impacting a pillar at 140kms plus. VANOC, the IOC, and the ILF should consider themselves forewarned, and therefore responsible for any future injuries or deaths.]

Dr. Paul Boin (pboin@uwindsor.ca) is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Windsor, founder of the Media Justice Project and is the research coordinator for the Haiti Media Research Project (If you're interested in becoming involved in this media research project contact pboin@uwindsor.ca).  His forthcoming book "Media for the Public Mind: Creating a Democratic and Informative News Media" will be published by Fernwood Publishing in the Fall of 2010.

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