The head of NBC Sports has responded to calls for the TV network to put a spotlight on Russia's draconian new anti-gay laws in its coverage of the upcoming Winter Olympics, saying there would be reporting of the issue but only if it should emerge as a problem during the games.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports division, told an audience at the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills that the issue of Russia's clampdown on gay men and lesbians had already been dealt with by the International Olympic Committee. "The IOC has addressed it with the Russian government and has assured athletes, fans and media that there won't be any issues," he said, adding that should the new laws impacted any part of the Winter Olympics "we will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognising it".
The comments from Lazarus are unlikely to tamp down calls from the LGBT community for NBC to highlight Russia's aggressively anti-gay laws in its coverage of the Winter Olympics that is begin in Sochi on 6 February and run for 18 days. There have been widespread calls for protests and a boycott of the games.
Last week the Washington-based LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign wrote to the NBC parent company urging the network to use its broadcasting reach to expose "this inhumane and unjust law to the millions of American viewers who will tune in to watch the games". Specifically, HRC called on the network to refuse to air the opening ceremony of the games.
The new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin last month, imposes fines on those who spread propaganda "directed at forming nontraditional sexual setups" or that gives the "distorted understanding" that homosexuals are "socially equivalent" to heterosexuals. The "homosexual propaganda" penalised under the legislation includes wearing a rainbow flag or tweeting positive messages about gays or lesbians.
The law also provides for the arrest of foreigners engaging in such activities for up to 15 days followed by deportation. The IOC said last week that it had been given assurances from the Russian government that the sanctions for foreign nationals would not be applied to those participating in the games.
[screen grab of NBC streaming restriction sign via Flickr Creative Commons]