The Western media coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics has been about everything but the Olympics.
From unprepared hotels, to killing stray dogs, to the countrys’ stance on gay rights, Western media has consistently viewed the Winter Games in a negative light, and pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In fact, only nine out of 38 countries have positive views of Russia as the Olympic host (Pew Research Center, 2014). Not to mention that when The Washington Post, and ABC asked Americans if they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of Putin, 58 percent answered unfavorable.
It is true that Russia banned promotion of “non-traditional” sexuality last year, which makes it illegal to provide information on homosexuality to the youth.
But why simply ignore Putin’s welcome to homosexuals at the games, where he explained to the media, “We don’t have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” he said. “We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality.”
Why ignore the statement from the mayor of Sochi, who also welcomed homosexuals, simply stressing that they “respect Russian law” and “don’t impose their habits on others” (BBC News, 2014)?
While Western media is consistently pointing the finger at Putin, journalists fail to realize that the upper and lower houses of Russia’s parliament, passed the ban with votes of 137 to 0 and 436 to 0 respectively.
Maybe the American journalists missed those key points as they were live tweeting about side-by-side toilets.
It can not be ignored that thousands of media personnel and athletes were welcomed to Sochi with limited hotel space, and mediocre conditions.
But the photo of dirty water that Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair tweeted from her hotel room in Sochi is just “cultural misunderstandings borne out of sheltered ignorance,” as Sarah Kaufman wrote.
Kaufman went on to explain that only around half of Russians had access to reasonable drinking water that met reasonable health standards in 2002. And the situation hasn’t changed even 12 years later, with Putin himself admitting last May that he has dirty water running from his sink. (PolicyMic, 2014)
But these facts go unreported in Western coverage of the games.
What happened to American journalists upholding the ethics of journalism, and reporting information objectively? I’ve never met a journalism professor who instructed his students to take their country’s social norms, and force them to fit other countries.
There is a line between criticism and journalism, and many American journalists in Sochi are publicizing which side they walk.
Instead of harassing gay Russians to see how Putin’s ban affects their club life, I would have liked to read about the twelve new sports added to the Winter Games, or German ski jumper Gianina Ernst who is the youngest athlete competing in Sochi, at 15.
Americans’ dislike towards Russia and her President is not what the Winter Games are about.
It’s about athletes from 88 nations —more than any other in the history of the Winter Games— competing for their country with dignity.
It’s about Olympic spirit: the essence that is not just seen on the podium, as medals are handed out, but the spirit that exudes from each athlete present.