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How Not To Cover The Upcoming Sochi Olympics

January 30, 2014 10:41 am ET by Luke Brinker

With the Winter Olympics set to kick off in Sochi, Russia on February 7, the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD has released a media guide for covering the upcoming games, stressing the importance of highlighting Russia's anti-gay crackdown and telling the stories of LGBT Russian citizens.

On January 29, GLAAD unveiled its Olympic Playbook, in conjunction with the group's launch of a Global Voices program designed to advocate for LGBT rights around the world via improved national and international media coverage. GLAAD offered media organizations a primer on Russia's anti-gay crackdown, noting that the country's ban on so-called "gay propaganda" could target favorable depictions of LGBT people, waving the rainbow flag, public displays of affection between same-sex partners, and simply coming out as LGBT.

Additionally, GLAAD noted that LGBT Russians suffer under laws clamping down on free speech and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive any foreign financing; such entities must register with the government as "foreign agents."

Continuing in the vein of GLAAD's longstanding mission to empower LGBT people through media accountability and story-telling, the organization urged media organizations covering the Olympics to:

  • Draw attention to the state-sanctioned persecution of LGBT Russians and convey the "personal stories and experiences" of LGBT individuals in the country.
  • Cover Russian LGBT life with a "personal lens," asking LGBT citizens about their experiences, relationships, and sense of security in the country.
  • In interviews, ask Olympic athletes and others involved in the games whether they're aware of the crackdown and what they think of it.

GLAAD's advisory also listed "pitfalls to avoid," including:

  • Omitting coverage of Russia's anti-LGBT laws, as outlets like NBC and Fox News have previously done.
  • Comparing LGBT people to pedophiles, as President Vladimir Putin did in widely publicized remarks.
  • Relying on International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Russian officials for comment on the anti-gay crackdown. The IOC, GLAAD notes, has declared that Russia's anti-LGBT laws don't violate the Olympic Charter's anti-discrimination clause and that any athlete who engages in pro-LGBT demonstrations risks disqualification. Coverage should instead feature the voices of LGBT activists and citizens.
  • Drawing excessive attention to Sochi's gay bar at the expense of reporting on other LGBT clubs and organizations, many of which have come under attack.

Stories GLAAD urged outlets to cover included:

  • Russian LGBT people who lost their jobs for coming out, including media personalities Anton Krasovsky and Oleg Dusaev.
  • The organized LGBT movement in Russia, including "cultural, film, sport, advocacy, and legal LGBT organizations."
  • The role of American conservatives in supporting the crackdown.
  • The Russian Open Games, held in Moscow between February 26 and March 2 to promote sports participation among LGBT people and their allies.
  • A recent spate of horrific anti-LGBT hate crimes and attacks, including videotaped torture of young gay people and assaults on private meetings of LGBT people.
  • LGBT asylum seekers, who are increasing in number as Russia and countries like Uganda wage war on the fundamental rights and dignity of LGBT people.


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