It’s during events like the Olympics that one becomes more acutely aware of the BBC’s position as a state broadcaster. Just as the Jubilee coverage was largely free of objection to the huge expenditure and forelock-tugging of a dysfunctional family living off the state, the run up to London 2012 has seemed a hell of a lot smoother through the prism of BBC News.
But now print media is falling into line too. The Sun, after publishing numerous exposes on security failures, is getting on board. Sensing public mood, the Mail will most likely defect as soon as the first gold medal is won. Even the Guardian, which rarely misses an opportunity to bash Boris or carp at Cameron, is publishing stories about how we should get enthused about the games. Professional clucking cynic Martin Kettle wrote last week:
“Ever since [watching the torch parade and reading an ICM poll showing only 13 per cent of people will totally ignore the games], I have seen the London Games in a different light altogether. Perhaps it’s just the change in the weather. That certainly helps. But I think the popular embrace of the Olympics is deeper than that… just wait until Britain wins a gold medal or four. In fact, just wait until Friday night’s raising of the curtain.”
Kettle seems to be arguing that sunshine, an exciting opening ceremony and a few victories for British athletes make up for sinister corporatism, censorship and the surrender of free speech to anyone who can pay. Not very congruent with his newspaper’s usual set of values.
At the best of times, London is a poster child for the surveillance state, riddled with CCTV cameras and other snooping technology. The Olympics has accelerated that trend. That professional journalists, both in their columns and on Twitter, have decided that now the spectacle has started it’s fine to ignore those concerns is remarkable.
It would be indecorous to suggest that this change of heart has anything to do with the hospitality and freebies now being showered on journalists. However, it’s worth noting that thousands of reporters and columnists, not all of them directly covering the festivities, will wheedle their way into events over the coming weeks.
Witness Giles Coren, opinion columnist and food writer for the Times who took to Twitter to boast about the free travel perks offered by his accreditation. As far as I can remember, the last time Coren covered sport was in a series of tweets about a Premiership footballer that breached an injunction and got him in hot water.
When Twitter users with many thousands of followers, such as India Knight – incidentally another Times journalist – and Grace Dent, of the Independent and Evening Standard, start to rebuke the masses for their Olympic cynicism, I wince. I guess it’s easier for these well-paid, well-connected commentators to decide that the oppressive stance taken by LOCOG is just an inconvenience. After all, it’s not their commute or their livelihood that is being affected.
This column has noted in the past that we should give kudos to Nick Cohen and the Spectator for taking a stand against brand fascism and attempts to suppress free speech flowing out of LOCOG. Dan Hancox, quoted in the New York Times, has since put it best: “The Olympics is actively antagonising people. It’s as if someone else is throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee and we’re all locked in the basement.”
If the media is unwilling to represent the voices of the Olympic dissenters as loudly as the cheerleaders, social media may end up doing it it for them. On Twitter, Facebook and beyond, the real issues bedevilling Londoners and other parts of the UK subject the pernicious hand of brand policing and militarisation are being aired. Already, a froth has been whipped up about empty seats that some, though not all, of the papers have jumped on.
The organisers of London 2012 have been boasting that this will be the first social media-enabled Olympics, while at the same time attempting to silence criticism. Satirical Twitter accounts such as the one run by protest group Space Hijackers have been shut down after complaints from LOCOG and, ludicrously, the terms of the London 2012 website forbid linking to it if your comments are “derogatory or otherwise objectionable”.