July 29, 2008

Only NBC Sending Its A-Team to Beijing Olympics

NEW YORK - NBC News could rent a small plane just for the top news personalities going to Beijing to cover the Olympics: Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry, Lester Holt, Richard Engel and Kevin Tibbles among them.

CBS considered sending Harry Smith, but decided against it and is sending Barry Peterson. Weekend anchor David Muir is ABC's biggest name heading to Asia. Dana Lewis is Fox News Channel's lone representative. CNN is largely handling the story through its Beijing bureau, keeping frequent-flier Anderson Cooper at home.

Guess which network's sports division paid nearly $900 million for the rights to televise the Olympics?

The rapid change occuring in China means there's likely to be more news beyond sports in Beijing than most Olympics. Television news organizations face many challenges, including the decision of how much money and personnel they should devote to an event where NBC has the insider's edge.

"It makes our lives difficult," said Paul Friedman, senior vice president of CBS News. "What we'll do is what everyone in this situation does. You go and look for the stories around the Olympics that you can get access to and, this time around, they may be as interesting as the Olympics themselves."

First, they must get to the stories. News organizations have complained for months about the difficulty in dealing with Chinese authorities unused to the concept of a free press. Several weeks ago a reporter from a German television station that had rights to the games had police stop a live interview on the Great Wall of China.

Broadcasters were given the commitment that they will be able to operate freely and without severe restrictions. Whether that will happen remains a mystery, said John Barton, director of sport for the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.

As has often been the case in Chinese history, Tiananmen Square is a symbol. The Chinese first closed it to media, then said it will be open only for certain hours. Helicopters are banned from flying over the landmark to film the marathon.

NBC would like to see more openness, but is continuing discussions with Chinese authorities, said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports.

- The Associated Press

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