The Seven Network, in all their Olympic fervour, might be taking the old maxim “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” a bit too far – and have been at the centre of a firestorm involving our relatively innocuous ad that features a Tibetan woman asking Kevin Rudd to speak out on Tibet while he’s in China.

Australians donated tens of thousands of dollars to put the ad, jointly produced by GetUp and the Australia Tibet Council, to air. The advertising spots were booked, paid for and confirmed to air on either side of the Opening Ceremony — but it never showed.

The Seven Network are having trouble sticking to a consistent story — originally they denied GetUp had booked any ads at all, then, once GetUp produced the confirmed booking sheets, claimed the booking was for another ad unrelated to Tibet.

First they said that ad (on FuelWatch) went to air, then they said it didn’t. Now they’re claiming the ads weren’t shown due to time constraints (which doesn’t explain why it wasn’t played before the ceremony either).

The Australian said it best: “Nothing has sucked the air from the lungs as much as Seven’s decision to drop an advertisement by GetUp… In a democracy, where freedom of speech is a given, Seven’s craven self-censoring efforts represent a gold-medal act of moral cowardice.”*

Ignoring the obvious irony of a bunch of Australians being censored while trying to exercise their freedom of speech on behalf of those overseas who cannot, the whole sad exercise shows the conflict between our broadcasters’ responsibilities to the viewer, and the nation, and their commercial arrangements with the IOC and China.

It’s a tension that ran all the way to the top — hours before the Opening Ceremony Seven Chief Executive Kerry Stokes, who himself boasts numerous business interests in China, intervened to confirm the ad would screen as planned.

It appeared to be a last minute intervention of common sense, presumably the product of some expletive-laden phonecalls traveling up the Seven chain of command.

The victory was short-lived; the ad never screened.

But in the spirit of Olympic fairness, GetUp wants to give Seven a chance to show they do support freedom of speech — by showing another ad during the closing ceremony, reinforcing the idea that once the Olympics finish the human rights issues remain. That way Seven get a chance to set the record straight and sort the programming from the censorship.

Peter Fray

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