Friday, January 15, 2010

Are Vancouver public libraries engaging in censorship because of the Olympics?

Are Vancouver public libraries engaging in censorship because of the Olympics?

By Evan Weiner

January 15, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- The Vancouver Winter Olympics will begin in less than a month and it is a good time to see what the merry band of sportsmen and sportswomen of the International Olympic Committee are trying to hatch. Item number one, the Vancouver Public Library system according to The Tyee, a daily on line British Columbia magazine, has been advised to protect Olympics sponsors and make sure if any library branch is holding a gathering that only Olympics sponsors get publicity.

The Tyee published parts of the memo that was circulated to Vancouver libraries and the memo reads more like a guide to curtail freedoms in an open society. Libraries are supposed to be places of education and enlightenment. However the Vancouver libraries are potential hazards to the core of the Olympics idea, sponsorship. So the libraries have been instructed to take extraordinary measures to protect Coca Cola and McDonald’s, two of the Olympics worldwide sponsors.

“Do not have Pepsi or Dairy Queen sponsor your event,” is one of the paragraphs that come out blazing in The Tyee piece. “Coke and McDonald’s are Olympics sponsors. If you are planning a kids event and approaching sponsors, approach McDonald’s and not another well-known fast-food outlet.”

The Vancouver libraries have not yet been asked to ban or burn books which might conflict with the Olympics goals although that thought might have crossed someone’s mind within the Olympics movement. But apparently other censorship is fine. Vancouver officials are doing it as part of the 2003 agreement to host the Games to protect International Olympic Committee sponsors. In 2007, the Canadian government gave the Vancouver organizing committee “considerable powers” to further protect the IOC and sponsors.

There is no doubt that the International Olympic Committee thinks that it is above the law and politicians cannot genuflect fast enough when they hear the words International Olympic Committee wants to bring the Olympics to town. The library heard the clarion call as well and fell into line with the rest of the troops.

For instance, according to the library memo, audio-visual equipment is a problem. Panasonic is the official sponsor of the Vancouver Organizing Committee yet other company’s equipment can be found at library branches. There is a simple solution, put tape over the manufacturers name.

Allegedly the entire premise of the Olympics and the Olympic movement is to promote openness and dialogue between peoples through sports. But you would never know that through the actions of the Vancouver city council last July. The city council has put the clamps down on people who have agendas and what to push their wares near the Olympics-related areas.

Section 104 of the bylaws prohibits advertising matter, which can be described as pamphlets or handbills, in Olympics areas.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics will follow in the footsteps of other financial disasters that have taken place. The 1976 Montreal Summer Games was the last Canadian based Olympics and it took 30 years to pay off the debt from that two-week sports adventure. The world is littered with Olympics-sized financial debt from Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 and Athens, Greece in 2004. No one will ever really find out what Beijing spent on the 2008 Games but the Bird Nest stadium goes for the most part unused in the post-Olympics era and someone in China is paying about nine million dollars annually to keep the place maintained. Vancouver’s sponsors have done the barest minimum to fund the Games and there are plenty of tickets, hotel rooms, advertising and merchandising opportunities still available.

The bill for the Olympics will come due in 2011 and there will be a lot of questions that will need answers when the day of reckoning arrives as British Columbia taxpayers will be asked to pay the debt. That is not a concern of the International Olympics Committee, host cities should be happy that the IOC even gave them the time of day. When a host city signs a contract with the IOC, the host city taxpayers have to pay cost overruns, not the IOC. Apparently some freedoms also are forfeited to protect IOC partners.

There are some who will blame the global recession for the Vancouver Games financial failure and that failure extends to the American broadcaster, General Electric’s NBCUniversal, which figures to lose as much as $200 million (US) on the event.

Library censorship and the possibility of the sledding sports and the alpine skiing venue being in receivership are two of the probably legacy of the Vancouver Games. Those same libraries may not be able to buy new books starting in 2011 if tax money has to go to pay off the Vancouver Olympics debt.

But the lessons learned in Sydney, Athens, Montreal and other places have not resonated with other governments. The London 2012 Summer Games will cost English taxpayers a bundle and things are not very promising in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Games. Still the line forms on both the left and right with politicians and corporate leaders tripping all over themselves for a chance to host the Olympics in 2018 and 2020.

Item number two.

While the politicians and corporate leaders get on their collective hands and bended knees to cozy up to IOC President Jacques Rogge and his associates, Rogge and the associates may have to learn to grovel as well before American TV executives. American TV has funded the Olympics for decades and now the days of overpaying for the two-week sports orgy may be over. The IOC has no American TV deal in place for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games of the 2016 Rio Summer Games and the IOC may not solicit bids for those events until 2011. News Corp head Rupert Murdoch pointed out last September that “no one’s ever made any money out of them” and it was unlikely News Corp, the owner of the American syndication TV network FOX (Fox is technically not a network), would be bidding on the Games.

The IOC may also have decided to wait not because of a soft advertising market but to see if United States regulatory agencies give the go ahead and allow Comcast to buy out 51 percent of NBCUniversal.

The Vancouver Olympics presentation will feature colorful pageantry but when the show leaves town in late February, the viscerally gorgeous green city of Vancouver will remain viscerally gorgeous but the balance sheet will be drowning in red ink. That is how it is when politicians and corporate leaders deal with the IOC.

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