This started out as post about Weetabix and ended as one about the media reporting of Sochi 2014...

>> Wednesday, 26 February 2014

.... if you can believe that.  Because after 4 years living in Moscow, this week I finally found plain Weetabix available in my preferred reasonably-priced supermarket (rather than at the rather less reasonably-priced alternatives), and was so excited that I bought 5 packets of the stuff.  

You UK and US based readers may laugh, but healthy breakfast cereal for nut-allergic children can be hard to come by here, so whilst I may have gone just a little over the top, I now have Weetabix that will last us until the summer and - I hope - have encouraged Auchan to continue stocking it.

Result.

Of course, I now have no space left for any other cereals in our cupboard, but that's beside the point, I'm sure you'll agree.

Anyway, I planned to write a post on how things are slowly but surely changing in a country which, if you were to take your view of it from what you read in the Western press, is still stuck in the dark ages.  Funnily enough, Weetabix didn't feature in that.  What actually came out was the following rant about the Olympics which, it seems, could no longer be suppressed...


Ah, Russia.  So much has changed in this country, not only in the 22 years since the USSR was dissolved, (because yes, it was that long ago), not just in the 19 years since I first visited (Christ, has it been that long?), and not even in the 4 years since we first moved over here as a family.

From the outside, of course, from the fabled Free West, you might be forgiven for thinking not much - if anything - has evolved.  Russia is apparently still a nation of grey brutalist architecture, a land of snow and ice, inward-looking, jingoistic and uninterested in taking note of progressions taking place elsewhere.  Admittedly, Russia doesn't help itself in this by many of it's political processes and decisions and by being what is still a hard-to-get-to (and indeed, often hard-to-get) destination, making it difficult to obtain visas and having been less welcoming to tourists than it might have.

But leaving that aside, I would put a sizeable share of the blame for Russia's poor image abroad squarely at the door of the Western Meeja, and an experience I had in the 90's has not seemed so far from the tone of what was going on recently in the reporting of the run-up to the Sochi Olympics.  Back then, I believed what I saw on-screen.  The news was the news, right?  If you couldn't trust the news, then...  But one day in 1996, whilst calling Husband in Moscow, from London, I commented on the snow I had just seen behind the BBC reporter as he stood with the Kremlin as a backdrop.  I mention this incident to illustrate how what you see in the press is subject to manipulation in ways you would not imagine; the snowy day I had commented on was in fact a reasonably mild +14degC and the reporter had been standing in front a blue screen.  The producers in London had simply called up their stock-backdrop for Moscow - cold and snowy - without actually checking the reality in Russia.

Sometimes, especially when looking at photographs of culled wild dogs purporting to be taken in Sochi but which can actually be traced to a news story from Kiev three years ago, it seems that not much has changed.

I sat back and watched the media feeding frenzy that preceded the Sochi Olympics with disbelief.  Certainly, from the reports we received from friends and acquaintances who were on the spot, things were not going smoothly in the run-up to the event itself.  Billions of dollars were wasted, disappearing who-knows-where, and the authorities were working up until the last minute to make sure that the facilities were ready.  Individuals from non-ethnic Russian backgrounds were ruthlessly exploited, whilst during the Games themselves, security was incredibly tight (I was going to write 'ridiculously', but when peoples' lives are at stake...), and travel around the venues - particularly out to the ski-hills - was apparently time consuming and difficult.

Gosh, Russia is just so damned different to all the other Olympic venues, isn't it?  I mean, it's just so Russian, boo hiss.  These things would never happen elsewhere.  Only in Russia, right?

Hmmm.  Wasn't it amazing that none of these things happened at previous Olympics?  I mean, we had no problems in the run-up to London 2012, did we?  It's not as if the streets of London were ever made impassable by the extensive network of roadworks, line extensions, or building sites that were worked on until the very last minute.  There were no scare-stories in the UK press about the possibilities of Olympic venues not being ready, or over-spends on the budgets*, were there?  There was no need to put soldiers on the streets to ensure the safety and security of locals and visitors when the company hired to do just that proved unequal to the task, or anything like that.

And there were no suggestions that in Canada in 2010 there was anything other than fair play in the minds of the organising authorities, thank goodness.  There was no difficulty in scheduling track or training time at the venues for visiting countries teams was there?  Heavens, no.

And in China, 2 years before that, wasn't it great that the 2008 Games were being held in a country with such a fantastic human rights record?  There were no missed deadlines or last minute work on the venues there - at least, not that the press ever had the access to, to report.  And there was certainly no slave labour or below-minimum wages in THAT nation, no sirree.  And isn't it great how China at that time allowed individuals of all faiths, persuasions and beliefs to live their lives as they wished?

Now.  I am not for one moment suggesting that all is right with the world here.  Or even that very much is right with the world here.  But the biased, dog-in-the-manger, looking for the downside of everything approach in all forms of media to what was happening in Russia in the few months coming up to Sochi 2014 had to be seen from the inside to be believed.

A fair, free, and balanced approach by our media.  It's what we expect, or at the very least, hope for.  But are we getting it?


*And no, I am not for a moment suggesting there was anything shady about the money spent on London 2012.  Although the people who compiled the original budgets in order to get backing for the bid back in 2005 might be accused of being just a little optimistic when they pulled out their calculators first time around...

6 comments:

nappy valley girl 26 February 2014 at 14:15  

Hmm. I think certain aspects of the media love to bash the Olympics, really. There was so much negative coverage before the London Olympics and then once it started it all disappeared. Same with Beijing, same with Sochi. I don't know whether the pre-bashing was any worse because it was in Russia though? Although maybe people thought they could get away with more because Russia has a somewhat tainted reputation. Shocking story about the BBC though.

Clare Taylor 26 February 2014 at 14:39  

You're right of course, NVG. Some publications will find the downside of practically anything. I don't think I'm being oversensitive - but then again...

Was Living Down Under 26 February 2014 at 16:29  

The thing is, before the sports begins, the media needs to report on something. Once the sports begins, those stories fall away.

I did read however, that the media do play on stereotypes that their viewers/readers already have. So if the viewership at home already have a notion of the host country, the journalist would relay the story that would reinforce that stereotype.

I loved watching the Olympics but I can't help but wonder how/if it's sustainable.

Iota 27 February 2014 at 07:38  

I can't bear to listen to any of the media coverage about the vote on Scottish Independence. The way stories are created, in order to be stories, and then, somehow, those stories become our reality. This is real life that those journos are playing with.

I agree that often the media knows what stories it wants, and just finds them (like your snowy backdrop). When I went on the search for the missing boy recently, the story in the media was about "it's the mums who are out", with shots of young mums pushing babies/toddlers buggies. But actually, there were hardly any buggies there. A few, yes, but only a few. I'm sure the reporter had decided the angle before pitching up.

MsCaroline 27 February 2014 at 08:23  

I couldn't agree with you more. I was actually pretty flabbergasted with all the hysteria in the US press about how small and spartan the hotel rooms were, how 'primitive' the toilet arrangements, and so on. All it made me think was that the media hadn't traveled much in Asia -or perhaps, anywhere else, if they found the arrangements that shocking. I will say, though, old habits die hard, and I'm sure there's still quite a bit of Cold War us-vs-them mentality somewhere behind at least some of that reporting.

Melissa 27 February 2014 at 11:01  

I confess I took little notice of what was being said about the Olympics at all and only really started to take any kind of interest when snowboarders started to do crazy things on the slopes with British commentators saying things like 'he couldn't be going any faster if he was wearing a suit of bacon being chased by a pack of wolves.'

PS - I am very pleased you found weetabix

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