BLOG: Hot debate around the Olympic Torch Relay as it enters Toronto, Canada

Posted by Richard Budman on Friday, December 25, 2009, · 1 Comment

When I decided to venture out on a cold Thursday last week – I never thought the Olympic Torch Relay would have turned into an event so fraught with controversy.

Lots of dialogue and debate raging the last week. Seems a couple of particular issues have rubbed a few people the wrong way.

The first revolves around the official sponsor and broadcaster of the Olympic Torch relay – CTV – and whether the network may have abandoned some journalistic principals in their coverage of the run.

If CTV (and by extension, just about every other network) has crossed the line into making their media personalities “part of the story” – it didn’t start with the Olympic Torch relay. I’d say the networks crossed that line ages ago in their quest for over-branding their channels. I never did understand why ET Canada would think I would give a shit about what host Cheryl Hickey’s new condo looks like or how she chose to design it.

Hey, if it makes you sick to watch Ben Mulroney gushing on eTalk over his Olympic Torch moments – then maybe, don’t watch. Change the channel. Lord knows I do.

I’m not sure why some people get so rankled that CTV got 30 or 40 spots in a Torch relay running across Canada and featuring 12,000 people in total! (selection to participate in the run, from my understanding, was from entering a lottery and being randomly picked.) While some media felt this was CTV “hijacking the run” for their own reality show is beyond me. It seems there were plenty of other spots available for “ordinary” Canadians to tell their stories which I did see enough off all over the place.

I don’t think this should come as a shock to anyone – but sponsors get perks. They pay millions of dollars for rights to broadcast events like the Olympic Games. It’s really not that different from a Golf tournament or Jazz Festival. Rightsholders get certain amounts of tickets and perks. It seems to be a system that has worked fine for years. I don’t think anyone should be too surprised to see the same thing going on with the Olympic Torch run.

And since CTV has been taking so much shit recently for not supporting more Canadian produced stories on TV – and this Olympic Torch relay is undeniably a very Canadian story – maybe we give the network a little break for pouring so many resources into covering the Torch run. Last time I checked, the Mulroney’s and probably all of the CTV personalities carrying the flame were Canadians too.

YouTube video: “Move over… your in front of kids! GET OUT OF HERE!” – said to the shooter.

The second issue that’s got the press raging this week concerns whether press reporters and photographers were actually physically assaulted by security while trying to cover the torch run. I can’t speak for what happened in Newmarket – where the most serious alleged assault seemed to occur. I just know what happened a few hours later when the Torch entered Toronto on Yonge St. south of Steeles Ave, and later that evening when things got really crazy when the Torch got south of Bloor St. in downtown Toronto.

I can just add by being out on the street that day – It was a tricky, unpredictable shoot in the bitter cold. The run was really a long rolling caravan that has to present huge security and safety implications for the organizers as they are not actually closing down the streets. Just rolling up to them.

As of press photographers, we’re zig-zagging all over the place. Stop. Shoot. Then trying to run ahead of the torchbearer and repeat again. Sure, at times security and Toronto police were pushing me out of the way (yes, actually touching me) – but I was heading right out into the “line of fire” on the street trying for optimal placement to make the best pictures I could that day.