Memo to the BBC

Attention, BBC management.

I really REALLY really REALLY REALLY don’t care about the Olympics.  Unless and until all the athletes become: (a) seventeen times more attractive, and; (b) start competing in the nude again I’m not going to be interested.  Ok?

Now, I realise there are people out there who are interested in such things.  Personally, I could watch almost as much snooker and tennis* as you could pump at me through a set-top box, and I know there are people who complain bitterly about those sports taking over the schedules.  So, I’m prepared to sit here and just sigh quietly to myself during the endless wall-to-wall coverage of the events themselves.  It’s August, anyway, so if it wasn’t the Olympics you’d only be putting out repeats of “Ooh look, it’s a house, let’s give it a hideous makeover”.

But where I draw the line is in all the other coverage.

I mean, co-hosting every sodding news programme for the last however-many-days-it-is from Beijing. (And don’t get me started on why we’re calling Peking Beijing – we don’t call the Hague or Vienna or Florence what the locals call them (Den Haag, Wien, Firenze), so why we make an exception for the Chinese capital, god only knows.)

If the news programmes were concentrating on the fact that the Chinese government sometimes isn’t very nice to its own people, or in the case of Tibet, another country’s people, I wouldn’t mind so much.  But that kind of coverage juddered to a halt at least a week ago.  These days a ‘critical’ report is one where they stick the camera out of the window and say, “Oh, smoggy, isn’t it?”  The rest of the time is taken up with puff pieces about how the Chinese have staged ‘the greatest show the world has ever seen’.  (And, needless to say, they haven’t.)

On the six o’clock news last night, the Olympics opening ceremony was considered more important than the possible start of a war between a country backed by America (Georgia) and Russia.  This is BIG news.  This could be the moment the cold war re-starts.  This conflict has the potential to go nuclear.  (I realise that, realistically, it’ll have smouldered back down to nothing much in a week or so, but still, the chance is there.)  On the other hand, the opening ceremony was known about for years in advance, and happened in exactly the way we knew it would, with all the pointless overblown schmaltz we were dreading.  There was no ‘news’ there at all.

The news is about telling us something we didn’t know about, either because it hadn’t happened yet (like wars, natural disasters etc) or we weren’t paying enough attention (political scandals, reports that herds of MRSA-contaminated wildebeest have been roaming the corridors of NHS hospitals etc).  All the rest of it is either entertainment – royal visits and so on – or advertising – “the government has unveiled a raft of proposals aimed at…”.  The opening ceremony of the Olympics falls into both categories.  Entertainment because much of the attraction revolved around saying, “Oh, look at the pretty fireworks”, and advertising because, partly, it’s a commercial for the BBC coverage, and partly because it’s free publicity for a really not very pleasant (albeit improving) regime.  What it absolutely wasn’t was news.

So, BBC, feel free to keep up the saturation coverage of the “sports” element (does ANYone watch beach volleyball in order to be impressed with the size of the players’ … athletic ability?).  But please, for the love of Lord Reith, not the rest of the interminable nonsense.

Thank you.

That is all.

* – yes, I know tennis is an Olympic sport, but the televised matches will make up 0.00000074% (estimated) of the total output.  And even that will just focus on Andy Murray, whose chances of a gold, silver or even bronze medal are substantially less than zero.

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9 Responses to Memo to the BBC

  1. Just imagine how the coverage is going to look in four years time…

    I don’t know if you really want to know, but take a look at the Wikipedia page for Beijing for a discussion of the naming issue. The short version is that “Peking” and “Beijing” are both transcriptions of the Mandarin name for the city, with “Beijing” using a newer system (pinyin). So because the romanised spelling has changed, the Western pronunciation has followed. However, nobody (at least nobody informed) will mind if you continue to call it Peking. The British Embassy there still calls itself the British Embassy, Peking, for example. It’s not a political issue. It’s just that it would be weird for translators, who now almost exclusively use pinyin, to make an exception just for city names.

    With European cities the situation is somewhat different. Florence, for example, was originally named Florentia and Firenze is the result of changing local pronunciation. A similar thing is going on with Vienna/Wein – the root of the name is the Latin for ‘vine’ “vinea”. Europe is loaded down with this kind of history and a lot of it really is just a footnote to the Romans.

    Anyway, what with the Russians assassinating a dissident on British soil and refusing to extradite anyone involved, the idea that the cold-war ended is becoming rather laughable. Russia’s still the big bad giant at the edge of Europe, it’s just that they now have a working economy…

  2. Azulinebloo says:

    I agree with you on this one.

    I saw a lot of coverage of the Scottish man who protested about Tibet and was sent home and some olympian saying it’s not the correct place for political protests.

    It’s the BEST place with all these countries involved, particiapting and watching. I don’t think you should keep the politics out of something like this because it’s “sport”

    I’ll stop here before I go into full on rant mode

  3. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    ExChimp – good to see you back. :o) Wow. Do you have all this information at your fingertips already? Or just go and research it when the occasion demands? Either way i’m seriously impressed.

    I’m actually quite sympathetic to the idea of changing pronunciations so as to not offend people, but i harbour a pretty strong suspicion that “Beijing” as i pronounce it is just as inaccurate a rendering of the original name as “Peking” is. I take your point about translators following a standard set of rules, but i’d’ve thought they could make an exception for established proper nouns. The pronunciation and transcription of them is highly irregular anyway – take Cholmondeley (Chumley) for example.

    Azulinebloo – i guess i can understand that, if you’re a sportsman/woman, it’s frustrating to hear people talking about things other than the sports. The trouble is, if you go to Beijing and don’t speak out against what’s happening then you end up tacitly supporting it. But, given that some athletes who did speak out found their visas to enter China withdrawn at the last moment, I can understand why they’re very wary about saying or doing anything that might upset the apple cart.

  4. silvawingz says:

    I am with you on the whole Olympics thing – As for the China/human rights issue – I think it is really complex and but it does piss me off when the USA, the UK and a bunch of others go on about human rights – I mean pot calling kettle black springs to mind………..Azulinebloo is right though

  5. Do you have all this information at your fingertips already? Or just go and research it when the occasion demands?

    A bit of both, really. I know a little about a lot of things because I do some research when I find myself wondering about things and vice versa. Otherwise the unanswered questions keep annoying me. Sometimes I’ll actually know stuff in detail and don’t need to look anything up, other times I don’t know much and what I write is completely based on what I’ve learned there and then. Mostly it’s in the middle, so on the Beijing/Peking question, I already knew that there’d been a shift in Chinese transliteration.

    As a quick aside, the transliteration actually turns out to be transcription, because a transliteration is a rendering of one alphabet in another, but Chinese doesn’t use an alphabet. You can transliterate cyrillic or greek because there’s correspondences between the letters. You can’t transliterate Chinese because it uses

  6. (damn enter key…)

    You can’t transliterate Chinese because it uses a logographic, rather than phographic set of characters. ie. each symbol represents a whole word rather than a sound. So to render it in English you have to transcribe the sounds involved.

    (I looked up that bit about logographic and phonographic languages, but they’re nice words to know)

    I take your point about translators following a standard set of rules, but i’d’ve thought they could make an exception for established proper nouns.

    I found a slightly better answer to your original question from the Lingiusm blog:

    The BBC eventually canvassed the views of many of its journalists as to whether the”old” name, Peking, should be used, or the “new” one, Beijing. The correspondent in the Chinese capital at the time thought Peking should be maintained. No one asked me, but had they, I should have agreed with him: the words “old” and “new” were inappropriate in this context. The Chinese had not changed the name of the capital, which might have justified our changing it (as happened with Cambodia changing to Khmer Republic and then Kampuchea, before reverting to Cambodia), but had simply changed their romanization. However, his views were over-ridden, and the BBC has said Beijing ever since.

    So it seems they… uh… just had a vote on it.

  7. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Ooh, more replies, great stuff.

    Hi silvawingz, thanks for commenting. Not sure i quite agree with you on the comparisons between western countries and China. There’s a whole bunch of things you can do in the west (like writing about and commenting on political issues in a blog, for example) that you can’t do in China without risking imprisonment, torture and even the death penalty. But that just means i have a different opinion, not a better one. :o)

    ExperimentalChimp – the thing i find most impressive is that you manage to remember the stuff you research. I mean, i also have a habit of looking stuff up when i’m not sure of the answer, but a good 75% of what i learn goes in through my eyes and then straight out the back of my head. If i’m lucky i might remember that i’ve forgotten something about a topic, and so know to go and look it up again, but that’s really the best i can hope for. Mind you, that’s partly to do with being ill – one of the ways i can tell i’m mentally on the slide is that suddenly i can’t remember anything.

    Anyway, i am, as always, fascinated with what you say as well as impressed with your ability to remember it. :o)

  8. cb says:

    I have been a bit quiet because I quite like the randomness of some of the really obscure sports.. but I think the way that all news has been cleared from the board is a bit .. strange.

  9. As someone who used to do both weightlifting and taekwondo, I’m delighted when I actually get to watch them. This country is far too obsessed with football (Association football, that is :) ) for its own good.

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