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Slack Paralympic coverage raises furor

Mar 13,2018
Korea won its first medal at the PyeongChang Paralympics on Sunday morning, but no Korean was able to watch it on live television.

Online petitions requesting more coverage of the PyeongChang Paralympics on the website of Korea’s presidential office. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
When cross-country skier Sin Eui-hyun earned bronze in his race at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, neither KBS, the main broadcaster of the Paralympics, nor SBS and MBC, the other broadcasters, carried it.

Instead, they were airing variety shows or replays of weekday dramas.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about today’s match not being shown on TV,” an alpine skier, Yang Jae-rim, said after her Super-G visually impaired race on Sunday, which also wasn’t covered.

Apart from the opening ceremony, the only live coverage of the Paralympics by the three broadcasters was Sin’s biathlon race on SBS and the ice hockey match between Korea and Japan on KBS. Both games took place on Saturday.

Some 20 petitions have been submitted to the website of the presidential office requesting more live coverage of the Paralympics.

“I really don’t understand how the three biggest networks didn’t cover today’s match, even though we are the host nation,” one student wrote on a petition Sunday.

“During the Olympics, the three broadcasters all covered the games live, but I can’t see anything on TV for the Paralympics,” another person wrote. “That by itself is discrimination against people with impairments.”

During the nine-day event, SBS was supposed to cover about 22 hours of the Games live, while KBS was tasked with 15 hours and MBC 10 hours. However, a majority of the events are either airing on delay or in highlight reels during the middle of the day or past midnight.

By comparison, during the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, a cumulative 625 million viewers watched the Games live.

“Television viewership for the opening ceremony across the three broadcasters was 18.3 percent,” said Jeon Yong-bae, a professor of sports management at Dankook University. “Though it’s less than the 44.6 percent for Olympic viewership, it is still a meaningful number. More than the results of the Paralympics, the stories are more significant. [The athletes’] inspiring work is by itself sufficient to broadcast on television. But as host nation of the Paralympics, we do need to work on covering it more.”

Korea may fall behind in coverage of its own Paralympics compared to other countries. The broadcasters are expected to spend a minimum 54 hours on the Paralympics.

China’s state-owned CCTV pledged to devote at least 40 hours to the Paralympics, while France Televisions, the public broadcaster, plans to cover 100 hours. NBC in the United States has committed 94 hours.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK carved out 62 hours for its total coverage of the Paralympics, including related stories. “We air the PyeongChang Paralympics live almost every day,” an NHK official said. “It is the first time we have ever covered a Winter Paralympics.”

The interest is said to stem from Japan’s role as host of the Summer Games in 2020.

After the opening ceremony, KBS decided to increase its total coverage of the Games, including live broadcasts and related content, from 25 hours to 34 hours.

“Television coverage of the Paralympics is important because it gives hope to people with impairments and inspires them to think, ‘I can do it, too,’” said Jeon Hye-ja, secretary general of the Korean Paralympic Committee.

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, PARK SO-YOUNG AND LAURA SONG [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]


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