Elton John once sang that sorry seemed to be the hardest word. If you’re the BBC’s London news operation, then “sorry” is a free plug on your evening news bulletin. Especially when it comes to the Olympics and Greenwich Park.
In April, BBC London’s Olympics reporter Adrian Warner broadcast a report claiming that peace had broken out in the row over staging Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Park. It’s still online here, with a caption that’s slightly more misleading than the report. Even I knew it was dodgy – and I’m excited about the Olympics coming to my neighbourhood.
So how did anti-horses group NOGOE get its right to reply? Well, it was the TV journalism equivalent of allowing the other team a shot at goal after a refereeing cock-up. It was a bit odd, and unfortunately you won’t find it on the BBC News website like the original offending report. Hopefully, you’ll find it here for the next week – if you see a bulletin which has the fact that it’s a bit hot as the lead story, and buries a startling story about the death of Ian Tomlinson, you’ve got it. It’s just after a bit about the MP for “Luton and Wanstead” stepping down. I feel ghastly for putting the boot into my former employer, but this wasn’t a brilliant example of how the BBC serves London…
“Now, putting up proest banners near Olympic banners during the games in 2012 could lead to you being arrested and the police raiding your home. A human rights lawyer has told BBC London that she worries that freedom of speech in the capital will be severely restricted during the event. Here’s our special report…”
Warner introduces a NOGOE-r, preparing his badges, T-shirts, and other campaign stuff – and then surprises him with what’s in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, signed into law over three years ago under very little scrutiny. Not new stuff, then. Trouble is, you’ll see the odd phrase highlighted, but Warner doesn’t actually go into detail about what’s in the act, created the Olympic Delivery Authority, but is also intended to help crack down on illicit advertising at and around Olympic events.
Trouble is, Warner was so vague about the details of the legislation that I was left scratching my head – would this really mean police cracking NOGOE-rs’ heads come the summer of 2012, dragging them away from their homes and seizing front window posters about Saxon graves? He’s got a blog on the BBC website – but there was no further background stuff there. In fact, he hasn’t updated it since January.
The real answer is – we don’t know. The legislation is pretty ambiguous – there’s certainly the potential for abuse here. The relevant passage is on advertising regulations. I’ve stuck the bits that stick out for me in bold.
(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations about advertising in the vicinity of London Olympic events.
(2) In making the regulations the Secretary of State—
(a) shall aim to secure compliance with obligations imposed on any person by the Host City Contract,
(b) shall have regard to any requests or guidance from the International Olympic Committee, and
(c) shall also have regard to amenity and public safety.
(3) The regulations shall specify, or provide criteria for determining—
(a) the places in respect of advertising in which the regulations apply,
(b) the nature of the advertising in respect of which the regulations apply, and
(c) what is, or is not, to be treated for the purposes of the regulations as advertising in the vicinity of a place.
(4) The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including, in particular—
(a) advertising of a non-commercial nature, and
(b) announcements or notices of any kind.
(5) The regulations may apply in respect of advertising in any form including, in particular—
(a) the distribution or provision of documents or articles,
(b) the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds, and
(c) things done with or in relation to material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement.
So, potentially, there is room for abuse. And with the Met Police’s recent record in dealing with protest, it’s certainly a cause for concern. But the act’s already been passed into law. Either another MP pushes for an amendment, or we harry, harangue and harrass the government, the police and the Olympic bodies into making a guarantee that people will be free to protest should they want to. Whether or not they will protest at the time will be an interesting point – how many Greenwich homes will be rented out during summer 2012 by people who have had enough of the disruption?
So, did BBC London get any assurances from LOCOG, the government or the police that people would be free to display the odd dissenting window poster, or mount a peaceful demonstration, three years from now? It doesn’t sound like any were sought…
“The government told us tonight that the act was there to prevent over-commercialisation of the Olympics.”
And that was all. If any further questions weren’t answered, we weren’t told.
Journalism like this doesn’t help anyone. It gave NOGOE a free slot on the news, but it doesn’t move the debate forward – nobody’s been asked to confirm how this three year-old law will be implemented in three years time. It’s a serious issue, but presented as cheap spot for someone to have a moan. The impact of the Olympics in Greenwich Park – and London as a whole – demands more scrutiny than that. With misinformation from anti-Olympics protesters, the local council sucking up to organisers, and reporting like this; it’s no wonder why there’s still a lot of confusion about what to expect in 2012. We deserve better than this, we really do.