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Culture @ the Olympics

issues, trends and perspectives

Non-accredited media, Olympic Games and the host city The British Academy 2004 project Beatriz GarcĂ­a and Andy Miah

This project has assessed the utility of non-accredited media centres as a platform for securing appropriate media reporting of local cultures during the Olympic Games. The research conducted in Athens during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games built on the findings of earlier work at the Sydney 2000 and Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics. Background and Context Since their inauguration in 1896, the Modern Olympic Games have been researched through various academic traditions. With the formalisation of cognate research areas such as media, cultural studies, and sport and leisure studies in the 1970s, social research into the Olympics has developed steadily. The Games have been considered by anthropologists and sociologists as a rich source from which to

study the playing out of national identities and cultural politics. Often referred to as the biggest event in the world, the Olympic Games have become a site for important political statements, such as the time in Mexico (1968) when athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested the treatment of black Americans by raising black-gloved hands on their medal podium. In recent years, research has focused on social and economic impacts and the role of the media in transforming the Games into a globally shared experience. This research demonstrates that media coverage of the Games plays a vital role in projecting an image of the local host, but that the current structures of Games organisers and media providers undermine the representation of culturally diverse voices. By focusing on reporting the sporting competitions and official ceremonies, the media fails to reflect the particularities of each Olympic festival. As such, the cultural context of the Games, including street activity and other

Culture @ the Olympics, 2004: vol. 1, issue 1, pp. 1-7

cultural programming, is often lost or misrepresented. This trend could change with the development of alternative media provisions, a phenomenon that has evolved since the creation of the first official ‘non-accredited media centre’ (NAMC) at the Sydney 2000 Games. The NAMC is distinct from the accredited media centres, which are reserved only for the official media right-holders under exclusive national arrangements. The main function of accredited centres is to provide facilities and information for the reporting of sporting competitions. In contrast, the NAMCs are open to any media representative (including freelance journalists) and offer a significant amount of material on human-interest stories, local activity groups, and the Olympic cultural programme. As a recent phenomenon, no research has yet been conducted on the role and potential of the NAMC. This project intends to assess the utility of the NAMC as a platform for securing appropriate media reporting of local cultures during Games time. Pilot work conducted by Dr. Garcia and Dr. Miah at the Sydney and Salt Lake City Olympics suggests that a broad range of media utilise the NAMCs, but that the political positioning of these centres remains unclear.

Looking towards the future, this work can be useful for the broad social study of events, but also, more specifically, for the city to host the Olympic Games in 2012. London is currently one of the candidate cities. Since the London bid must be submitted in November 2004, the Athens Olympics offers a unique moment to study the role of the NAMC, which can provide additional, valuable information for the bid strategy. By researching the NAMCs, it is possible to further understand how an Olympic bid can better promote Olympic values, such as cultural diversity.

Objectives The main objectives of the project were to: 1. Understand the operational structure and function of the NAMC in contrast to the accredited Olympic media centres, managed by the organising committee of the Games under IOC regulations. 2. Identify needs of local cultural groups to secure appropriate media representation during Games time. 3. Understand how journalists

and local promoters make sense of the NAMC and how they could utilise it better.

GarcĂ­a and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


Methodology The project methodologies were fundamentally qualitative, consisting of the following, -



24 structured and semistructured interviews with key NAMC stakeholders, registered journalists and representatives from local cultural organisations presenting their work during the Games; review and analysis of relevant documentation about the NAMC and cultural programming during the Games; participant observations at the NAMC and selected cultural activities in Athens and key Olympic venues.

In addressing Objective 1, we conducted four structured interviews with key NAMC stake-holders, including the Hellenic Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Tourism. We also conducted a review and analysis of key documents offering information about the number and nature of organisations represented at the NAMC, the list of registered journalists, and a representative sample of promotional material about local cultural activity provided in the Centre. We also recorded and analysed observations of the Centre’s structure and operations

(including the distribution of information stands and the use of facilities). Addressing objective 1 also entailed the review of materials about the Main Press Centre. This provided a basis to compare both centres and assess the level of cultural information provided to accredited journalists. For Objective 2, we conducted seven semi-structured interviews with representatives from selected local organisations presenting cultural activities during Games time. We did not target organisations solely interested in promoting tourism and economic benefit to their region, but rather engaged with organisations and individuals trying to present local cultural and artistic vibrancy. Finally, Objective 3 entailed speaking to journalists (both accredited and non-accredited) and local promoters in an unstructured interview setting within the NAMC. We discussed their priorities, concerns, and perceptions of the value given to NAMCs in the media coverage of the Olympic Games.

Research Programme Funds were required to gather primary data during the 2004 Olympic Games period in Athens. NAMCs are open to journalists only during the Olympic fortnight, which made it

GarcĂ­a and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


fundamental to conduct research during this time. Our full participation during these weeks was necessary to achieve Objectives 2 and 3 and a preceding week to work towards achieving Objective 1. During the first week, we identified our key contacts for the personal interviews, arranged times for meetings and gathered key documentation about the MPC and the NAMC.

journalists representing not only mainstream media (as is the case in the accredited centres) but also smaller outlets such as specialist culture and trade magazines and community radio stations. The majority of registered journalists represented Greek media but also, significantly, Chinese media, the country to host the next Games in 2008.

During the second week we gathered information about the main cultural promoters within the NAMC. During both week 2 and 3, documentation was gathered on daily news releases, monitoring of journalist participation, and promotion of other cultural activities. Also during these final two weeks, the remaining interviews were undertaken, and we dedicated time to engage with local groups at cultural events (Objective 2 and 3).

Main findings 1. Operational structure and function of the NAMC and how it compares with accredited Olympic media centres The NAMC was an active centre of information for the media, attracting a wide diversity of

The NAMC provided daily briefings about the political, social and cultural issues surrounding the Games, while the accredited centres focused on the sporting competitions and IOC related matters exclusively. It was located in the centre of Athens to ensure maximum representation of daily city-life stories. This allowed easy access to the main cultural and symbolic events including the torch relay and torch lighting in the Parthenon, the main street-based cultural programming and some sporting events such as the road cycling and the marathon. The accredited centres were at the Olympic Park, the base of most

GarcĂ­a and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


competition venues, 20miles from the centre. The NAMC offered a relaxing and comfortable environment compared with the accredited centres. It made a point of offering good quality food and refreshments, representative of Greek gastronomy; it showcased stands sponsored by the main Greek public agencies representing tourism, heritage, the arts and offering related services to journalists; it offered daily afternoon and evening functions providing a taste of Greek cultural heritage.

The NAMC had no official link to the accredited centres but ensured representation of the Olympic organising committee in all non-sporting related issues such as cultural, educational and environmental matters. 2. Representing local cultures and other relevant international cultural issues Our interviewees insisted that the NAMC provided a good platform to present their work. This is

because the management team was easily accessible to public agencies and related organisations compared with the strict regulations of the Olympic organising committee. The NAMC provided a venue for high profile presentations that were not featured in the accredited centres, which tend to be consumed by news concerning the sporting competitions. These included: • Presentation of the Olympic Truce initiative, attended by the Greek and UK PMs, Royal family of Spain, etc. • Presentation of Greek major projects: European Capital of Culture’06, bid to host the Universal Expo 2008 • Other world major events: Melbourne Commonwealth Games’06 On the down side, the media value of the cultural stories was not always optimal. Despite its diversity, information about its purpose was not always made clear to journalists. Furthermore, the amount of local guests linked to special presentations sometimes outnumbered that of journalists. As a result, some events seemed to act more as private parties than media opportunities. Also, the range of activities presented was unbalanced.

García and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


The NAMC was open to contributions from all sorts of cultural groups, but the majority of presentations addressed the interests of key Greek public agencies in terms of tourism and business attraction rather than the Greek artistic community and wider population. This was evident in the tone of many cultural presentations, where traditional forms predominated over contemporary expressions. 3. How did journalists make sense of the place and utilise it Journalists were pleased with the setting and the diversity of activities on offer. However, there was a lack of understanding of the purpose of the NAMC and how it differed from the accredited centres. Mainstream journalists using the NAMC because of its convenient location often complained about the lack of sporting information (a function is did not intend to serve). Despite these complaints, 300 out of the 15,000 accredited journalists ended using the NAMC as their main base. Eight out of ten journalists representing alternative and specialist media were interested in the stories on offer at the NAMC rather than sporting stories. Their angle was more diverse and inclusive than that of the mainstream Olympic media. They covered the political and social issues surrounding the Games hosting process and

portrayed the stories of local cultural groups including ethnic minorities and marginal communities.

Recommendations Future hosts of the Olympic Games, including the candidates for the 2012 Games, will benefit from supporting the work of future NAMCs. These centres provide a dynamic setting and can deal with queries in a more flexible way than the official accredited centres. Most importantly, they offer alternative stories that allow a greater understanding of the Olympic host and can ensure a fairer representation of local communities.

Outcomes so far The researchers are acting as advisors to the London 2012 Bid and have conducted informal meetings with the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This project has received extensive media coverage in the weeks following the end of the Games. Beatriz GarcĂ­a will be speaking at the Annual Meeting of the UK National Olympic Academy on the initial findings of the project.

GarcĂ­a and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


Acknowledgements Very special thanks to Virginia & Tassos who hosted us in Athens for the duration of this project. Thanks to Kris Krug from SparkOnline and Anthony Edgar, IOC media operations manager, for facilitating our registration at the NAMC and wider access to Olympic media information. Also thanks to the NAMC- based Hellenic International Press Officers who generously offered their insight and recommendations. Finally, thank you to the cultural team at the Athens Olympic Organising Committee and staff at the Hellenic Culture Organisation for the amount of time and resources offered to allow us gain a full understanding of the wealth of cultural activity taking place in the lead to, during and after the Games.

GarcĂ­a and Miah, 2004: British Academy project


(2004) Non-accredited media, Olympic Games and the host city  
(2004) Non-accredited media, Olympic Games and the host city  

This project has assessed the utility of non-accredited media centres as a platform for securing appropriate media reporting of local cultur...