Jan 25, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: Republicans probe NBC over Beijing Olympics coverage

Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP via Getty Images

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent a letter to NBC Universal executives voicing concerns about "the extent of influence the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) may have over NBCUniversal’s coverage of the games."

Why it matters: The human rights abuses committed by the CCP have been the subject of intense scrutiny ahead of this year's Winter Games in Beijing. Activists last year sent a letter to NBC executives urging the network to cancel plans to cover the Olympics.

  • NBC paid $7.75 billion for the rights to exclusively broadcast the Olympic Games in the U.S. through 2032. That money contributes roughly 40% of the International Olympic Committee's revenue. NBC itself will typically make more than $1 billion selling ad sponsorships against Olympics content.

Details: The letter, addressed to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, asks NBC how it plans to use its "investment in the Games to shed light on China’s history of human rights abuses."

  • "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 CCP may have over NBCUniversal’s coverage of the games," it reads.
  • Signed by Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Bob Latta, the letter asks NBC to provide written responses and any related documentation to several questions about its coverage to the Energy and Commerce Committee by Feb. 7.
  • One question asks whether the IOC or the CCP has taken any steps to influence NBC's coverage of the Games "relating to reported human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province."
  • Another asks whether the IOC or CCP asked NBC to make changes "in how they are covered or advertised on NBCUniversal programming."
  • The lawmakers also want to know whether, as part of NBC's rights to broadcast the Games, the network is "in any way precluded by the IOC or CCP from coverage that would be critical of the government of the PRC."

The big picture: China's human rights record has put pressure on every company and organization that's dealing with the Games.

  • Some advertisers have been less vocal about their involvement in this year's Olympics per the Wall Street Journal.
  • Last week, NBC executives noted that geopolitical tensions with China will create some challenges for the network.
  • "We understand that there's some difficult issues regarding the host nation, so our coverage will provide perspectives on China's place in the world, and the geopolitical context in which these games are being held, but the athletes do remain the focus of our coverage," said Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production at a media event.
  • NBC will bring two China analysts, journalist Andy Brown and Chinese cultural historian Jing Tsu, to join anchors on the ground during its prime-time coverage.
  • NBC did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

Note: NBC is an investor in Axios and Satpal Brainch, president of CNBC Business News Worldwide, is a member of the Axios board.

Go deeper: Full letter below.

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