Pizza for Italy: South Korea broadcaster apologises for 'offensive' visuals at Olympics

MBC used 'ridiculous' stereotypes to identify countries at Tokyo's opening ceremony

Pizza for Italy, Chernobyl for Ukraine and civil unrest for Syria: these are some of the visuals and captions South Korean broadcaster MBC used in its Tokyo Olympics coverage to "make it easier for the viewers to understand the entering countries quickly".

The network came under fire this week after it drew on what were deemed "offensive" and "ridiculous" stereotypes to identify nations during the opening ceremony.

For example, when Team Italy entered, the broadcaster used an image of a pizza alongside its video. For Norway, it used a picture of a salmon fillet, while for Romania, it was Dracula's face that looked out at viewers.

This might seem like fairly innocuous, albeit stereotypical, imagery, but then for Ukraine, it chose an image of a power station to depict the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the country's – and the world's – worst nuclear accident.

Its words were similarly dubious. When Team Syria entered the ceremony, MBC ran a caption saying: "A civil war that has been going on for 10 years."

For Haitian athletes, a caption read: "With an unstable political situation due to the assassination of the president."

The Marshall Islands got: "Once a nuclear test site for the US."

Raphael Rashid, a freelance journalist based in Seoul, drew attention to the gaffes on Twitter.

People criticised the situation across social media, with one South Korean Twitter user writing: "MBC wow, how would it be if South Korea was introduced as the country of Sewol ferry disaster?"

"Did they literally just pick whatever the first picture was that popped up on Google when they did an image search for the country?" another person asked on Twitter.

The broadcaster was quick to issue an apology, writing: "We apologise to the countries concerned and our viewers. It is an inexcusable mistake."

It explained it had been trying to make it easier for its viewers to understand which countries were entering the ceremony, but "we admit there was a lack of consideration for the countries concerned".

MBC has now promised a review of its editorial process, particularly with regard to the Olympics, as it's not the first time this has happened. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the same broadcaster received a fine from the Korea Communications Commission for using similar captions and images at the opening ceremony, referring to Zimbabwe as "a country with deadly inflation" and Sudan as an unstable nation, according to The Korea Herald.

Updated: July 26th 2021, 7:54 AM
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