NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus on Saturday fielded questions about the network’s coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics, noting that NBC would not shy away from reporting on Russia’s draconian new anti-gay law if it “is impacting any part of the Olympic Games.”
“We’ll address it at the time because it’s still unfolding,” he added.
The International Olympic Committee announced on Friday that it was given “assurances from the highest level” of the Russian government that athletes and spectators would be exempted from the law, which criminalizes the free expression of gays and lesbians and gay rights advocates.
Despite the assurance, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which the new law wouldn’t come up during the Games, as so much of the talk leading up to the Winter Olympics has focused on the discriminatory ban. Gay rights groups have discussed staging protests in Sochi, other advocates have suggested a boycott.
NBC has also received pressure from international human rights groups to address the ban in its 18 days of coverage.
“You no doubt agree that it wouldn’t be right to air the opening ceremonies, which is an hours-long advertisement for the host country, without acknowledging that a whole segment of the Russian population — not to mention foreign athletes and visitors — can be jailed for an immutable aspect of their identity,” wrote Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Millions of LGBT Russians live in fear that their government will arrest them, simply because of who they are,” he added.
Last week, Russia arrested the first foreigners under the new law, after the Dutch gay rights advocate Kris van der Veen reportedly interviewed young people about their views on gay rights for a documentary about human rights. If convicted, van der Veen and others in his group could face up to two weeks in jails, heavy fines and deportation.