There's some amazing Olympics related facts and figures flying about as we thrust toward the opening ceremony. Four billion TV viewers, 20 thousand journalists, 10 thousand athletes …. five thousand cups of pee – just some of the numbers spruiked by the AOC on their website this week. Of course when you imagine all those journalists lined up next to each other it forms a really distasteful image. However they do have an important role to play.
In the week before the Beijing Olympics they descended on China - eagerly Googling the words 'Amnesty International' on the media center computers and standing in Tiananmen Square trying to get arrested. Their in-depth news reports quite rightly focused on sweatshops, forced evictions and Falun Gong- All to prove a point about the prevailing police state. The network I worked for back then even measured the horrendous levels of pollution in the city each day.
Of course there’s no need for all that in London. It's a comparative cradle of democracy… a perfect picture of stability. Except for the missiles on the roof. And the three thousand troops on the streets. And the photo ban.
The problem with having a high velocity missile mounted on the roof - it turns out - is the same as having an abandoned fridge in the front yard. Dangerous… unsightly … you write to the council but no one will move it. In the case of the residents of the London borough of Tower Hamlets they did more than that, they went all the way to the High Court to try and stop the deadly weapons being placed right above their homes to protect the Olympic park against attack. The judge wasn't convinced by their arguments that they could become something of a massive target – he sided with the government and the silos are being mounted this week. You can only imagine what we would have made of this story had it come out of China.
The sheer amount of troops on the street – well that's mainly the fault of a company called G4S. They won the contract to provide security for the entire Olympic Games but they’ve been facing problems on such a monumental level they’ve made newspaper headlines around the world – including here in Australia. They grossly underestimated the amount of people needed – failed to train them properly and then last week finally admitted not all of them could speak English. So now in many venues the armed forces are taking over. They’re also drafting in police officers from as far away as Scotland.
The photo ban is one of those annoying details of modern life. Yellow jacketed security men guarding the Olympic venues tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures. Even professional media photographers. Even from public land. This is just wrong on a whole number of levels.
I love the Olympics. It's awesome. Both the events and the overall idea. And I lived in London for five years so I'm happy for the city. Slightly concerned about the traffic but happy. But for all journalists going there - some important questions need to be asked. Just like in China there's a distinct possibility people are being forced to work for free. Reports in London media suggest this has been happening in big supermarkets over the past year and it happened during the Jubilee. The UK government calls it 'work experience.' There's allegations it often scoops people from job centres and forces them into unpaid positions – telling them they'll lose their benefits if they don't comply. If this is going on during the Olympics it's our responsibility to expose it – just like we would in China.
But hopefully that's not the case, hopefully it's all peaceful, hopefully we win loads of medals… and hopefully nobody has to come into contact with five thousand cups of pee.
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