The Olympics...
A Test for Conflict of Interest and Coverage Issues


The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City brought excitement, athleticism and an occasion to raise questions of ethics about many of the journalists covering the event.

Olympic Torch Relay - Photo Courtesy Olympics.com

If you had the opportunity to carry the Olympic Torch, a time-honored tradition of the Olympic ceremonies, would you? Many members of the sports media were asked to be part of the Olympic Torch Relay. Some accepted, some declined. While the issue may seem too good to pass up, media becoming involved in an event they are covering borders on the unethical.

"Journalists should be in the audience, not on the stage," said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute. Steele also noted, "If we become participants we no longer have the distance that allows us to observe as an independent journalist."

As such, some editors, such as James E. Shelledy of the Salt Lake Tribune, would not allow their staff to carry the torch. Shelledy stated, "Our ethical guidelines state if you are directly involved in reporting or editing a news story you can't be part of that event."

On the other hand...Rick Hall of the Deseret News said, "The torch is not graft or bribery or a gift...it won't change the way we cover the Olympics."

What the Codes Say


Figure Skating Medal Ceremony - Photo Courtesy Olympics.com

And then came "Skategate" and coverage that turned away from the events to a judging scandal in pairs figure skating...All of this coverage led to ethical questions on sources and attribution used by the media.

Some sources used include:

In addition to attribution issues, the coverage itself was often criticized. Media critic Richard Sandomir notes how "NBC's biased and abridged coverage of Olympic ice skating events and its commentators' favoritism and sensationalism failed to meet broadcasting's ethical standards for complete, objective reporting."

What the Codes Say