Media flames out on torch relay

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

As an Olympic athlete, I really didn't mind not being chosen to carry the Olympic flame. Until yesterday, that is. Now I'm just uneasy about the whole spectacle.

I recently received a nice e-mail from the Canadian Olympic Committee inviting me to apply to be a torchbearer. But I didn't get picked.

I brushed off the disappointment, figuring it was for the best. After all, I've been out of rowing for longer than I was in it, and now as a newspaper columnist, I realized it would be weird -- and also unscrupulous -- to insert myself in to activities that I might end up covering as media. Right?

Well, the folks at CTV have no such qualms.

In a press release that CTV headlined "Canada's Olympic storytellers to carry the flame," the broadcaster announced yesterday 27 "personalities" from Canada's Olympic broadcast media consortium have been named torchbearers on the RBC Olympic torch relay team.

These are the same members of the media who will be reporting on the Vancouver Olympics next February. How is that ethical?

Oh, right. It's not.

The list of media torchbearers includes TSN personalities Jennifer Hedger, James Duthie, Michael Landsberg and Dave Randorf, Globe and Mail and CTVOlympics.ca columnist Stephen Brunt, and CTV/TSN's Brian Williams. They will join 12,000 torchbearers selected through programs organized by Coca-Cola and RBC.

Obvious question: By cozying up to RBC and the Olympic torch relay, how likely are these media to scrutinize RBC or other Olympic sponsors, or probe any unsavory Olympic issues that may be in the public interest? Not very, I believe.

And who is paying for their travel to their torch-bearing locations across the country? Athlete torchbearers are covering all their own costs. That I know.

"Staff will be running in local hometowns or while on assignment, so cost of travel is not an issue," Rick Brace, president of Revenue, Business Planning and Sports at CTV Inc. said in a statement, after I asked.

You don't have to be an athlete or have done anything monumental to become a torchbearer. Regular sports fans and salt-of-the-earth folks are also getting the honour, which is wonderful.

But media?

"When we acquired the rights to the Olympic Games, it came with a unique opportunity to participate in the Olympic torch relay," said Brace. "Our No. 1 priority was to have CTV staff from across the country take part. By having CTV staff involved from news, sports and entertainment, we are ensuring maximum exposure for the relay on the various CTV networks and platforms."

This statement reveals a glaring conflict of interest. We learn in journalism school that media are supposed to stay arm's length from the news, not be actors in it. My gut would tell me that, even if a professor hadn't.

Oh, I would've had fun stepping back into the role of athlete for one day, to carry the torch, and share the moment with my kids.

But to award a torchbearer opportunity to media is wrong. That's why it's totally proper that I didn't get it.

It's also why we should all worry about what CTV's torchbearers mean for journalism.

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


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