Broadcaster Says Sorry for 'Inexcusable' Gaffe at Olympics

Among stereotypical pics used in opening ceremonies: Chernobyl for Ukraine, pizza for Italy
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2021 8:48 AM CDT
Updated Jul 31, 2021 1:40 PM CDT
Romania's Olympians Were Welcomed With a Dracula Pic
In this Friday file photo, fireworks are seen over the National Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama, File)

Ukrainians tuning in to the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday were likely looking forward to catching a glimpse of the athletes representing their country, not a photo of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that wreaked havoc within its borders in 1986. If they happened to watch the sporting event via one South Korean network, however, they got both. That eyebrow-raising Chernobyl image was just one of many stereotype-promoting graphics and captions used by Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. to introduce various nations' Olympians, leading to immediate global backlash and a public apology from the network. CNN details some of what even MBC is now calling its "inappropriate" choices to accompany the athletes' entrance, including photos of a pepperoni- and olive-topped pizza for Italy and a piece of salmon for Norway (see screenshots here), as well as Count Dracula for Romania.

The depictions were even more negative for countries like Syria—part of MBC's caption for its athletes read "a civil war that has been going on for 10 years"—and Haiti, which featured a photo of protesters in front of a fire and the caption: "The political situation is fogged by the assassination of the president." Fans worldwide immediately expressed their outrage online, and MBC issued a mea culpa. "The images and captions are intended to make it easier for the viewers to understand the entering countries quickly," the network said in its Saturday apology. It conceded, however, "there was a lack of consideration for the countries concerned," calling the gaffe an "inexcusable mistake" and noting it would review processes for future image and caption selection. Per the Washington Post, MBC took similar heat during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when its opening-ceremony descriptions labeled the Cayman Islands as "infamous for tax evasion" and Chad as "the dead heart of Africa." (More Tokyo Olympics stories.)

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