BBC’s Barking Mad Olympics Coverage

As the Olympics drew to a close, it was time for BBC 5Live to start basking in the brilliance of their own coverage. And it was left to DJ Nicky Campbell to sum things up so perfectly. After reading out a gushing Tweet from a listener, he said: “You know, it would have taken a real idiot not to have produced great coverage of such an amazing event”. And he was right.

His roving reports during the tournament had been a tour-de-force of moronic, mawkish and jingoistic banality. He had made a mockery of the idea that a BBC presenter covering an international event should retain a degree of objectivity. Because despite the bludgeoning message of the media – we don’t all share Nicky Campbell’s evangelical fervour for this mythical “new Britishness”.

The role the BBC allowed him to play was that of a rabble-rousing idiot, endlessly babbling and bellowing about the glory of Team GB. No sense of perspective, no analysis, no genuine interest in what was happening outside the Team GB bubble – just an endless repetition of lazy clichés; delivered in the style of somebody flogging Zumba DVDs from a market stall.

The tone was set at the opening ceremony when he encouraged the crowd to drown out a French journalist who had dared to express a reasonable opinion; that the opening ceremony was too much focused on Britain. As the days passed Campbell’s happy clapper persona became increasingly boorish – drunk with the power to manipulate the crowds with patriotic Team GB soundbites.

Campbell spoke on behalf of “the nation”. The Olympic spirit had united us all. We were all basking in the golden glow. We were all inspired by the heroics of Team GB. Even the biggest critic had been won over by the triumph of London 2012. We all now felt a special pride in what it was to be British.

It was hard to tell, but this was coverage of a tournament involving 300 countries and more than 10,000 athletes. But for Campbell and the 5Live crew, the rest of the world served only as a colourful background haze as they gazed lovingly at the majesty of Team Britannia.

Campbell was the cheerleader for a brand of patriotic tub-thumping which the BBC peddled throughout their Olympics coverage. There seemed to be a competition to see who could be most emotional and least objective. Commentators started to scream and holler, presenters began to sob, reporters began hugging athletes.

What used to be an occasional lapse into jingoism had become the BBC’s default setting. It was something they encouraged by setting up cameras to capture the commentators and pundits during their obligatory outbursts of red-faced jubilation.

It was the sporting equivalent of having embedded reporters. The BBC viewing themselves as part of Team GB; their role not to report, but to support. When a reporter stumbled on a great story; a Team GB rider admitting to deliberately falling in order to help Chris Foy win his gold medal; it was quickly buried. Nothing to look at here – move on.

There was a similar incident involving the two rowers, Hunter and Purchase. They appeared to feign a mechanical fault to get their race restarted. Co-commentator, Sir Steve Redgrave, showed his true Olympian spirit by encouraging them to cheat: “If it isn’t broken, then make sure it is.”

These were the same two rowers whose theatrical show of self-pity at having only won silver was enough to reduce presenter John Inverdale to sobs of despair; overcome by the tragedy of two privileged Team GB athletes finishing second.

For Nicky Campbell everything he encountered in this Olympics wonderland seemed to be unnaturally moving and emotional and inspirational. His favourite question when accosting members of the public was, “What’s made you cry the most?” – a passive aggressive way of forcing people to prove their Team GB support.

It all combined to create an X-Factor stained BBC coverage which cranked up the emotions and drowned out any objectivity or sense of journalistic perspective. The successes were down to heroism, British grit and determination – not the four years of generous funding that they had received.

And it’s an approach which worked. For lots of people it made for a great experience – passionate and emotional. People wept and sobbed along at home. Team GB was turned into a palatable fantasy – something people could believe in during these scary and uncertain times.

If this was purely about sport, it could be viewed as harmless. But it’s not. Team GB and this brand of BBC endorsed Britishness comes as part of a package. Bundled in alongside Bradley Wiggins and Nicola Adams you find some more toxic elements: support for the royal family, backing for the military and acceptance of England’s role as the dominant British nation.

It requires the adoption of a Daily Mail sense of British pride; a smug, arrogant and inward looking attitude which feeds on sentimentality and self-glorification. It also means buying into a brand which is enthusiastically used by major corporations to flog you a multitude of products. It was a matter of hours after the closing ceremony that the Team GB athletes appeared in their first flag waving advert.

So the more the likes of DJ Nicky Campbell pronounce that we’ve all been carried along on the euphoria of Team GB, the more divisive it becomes. By trying to ram this down people’s throats, the BBC is pushing people apart, rather than pulling them together.


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