Editor's Blog·Editor's Note

How CBC News will cover the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing

We know from experience that the best journalism is told when our teams can see the reality for themselves. Many of those facts are already clear to our journalists upon arrival: these are perhaps the most restrictive and controlled Games in the history of the Olympic movement.

Our athletes are proud to compete for Canada. We will bring you the very best reporting we can

Curling rocks are lined up, ready for the action to begin at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

We use this editor's blog to explain our journalism and what's happening at CBC News. You can find more blogs here.

CBC News teams are on the ground in Beijing, ready to bring you the stories that will define these Olympics. If past events are any indication, our journalists will report on triumph, loss, inspiration, dedication and nationhood, not to mention speed and achievement on both ice and snow, and all of that alongside any controversy that so often accompanies the world's largest, most-watched amateur sporting event. 

No doubt the Games will be an exciting and welcome diversion for Canadians grown weary after two years of living with COVID-19.

But these Games are different. Our news team cannot move about as freely as they have at other Olympics. They can't seek out stories outside of the Olympic bubble. And their efforts to gather information will be monitored and possibly compromised. 

Our promise

We are sending a team of Canadian reporters to work alongside our colleagues at CBC Sports, but for the next three weeks, all of our staff will work under China's rules. 

Here is our promise to Canadians: CBC News will be relentlessly transparent, accurate and detailed in our reporting. 

We will tell Canadians exactly what we see. We will also report on what we can't access and we will tell you why. We will be open-minded and fair in our reporting, aiming to capture a range of experiences and emotions from athletes, their families and the host nation. But without a doubt it will be more challenging than ever for our teams to find the real story behind the Olympic glare. We promise to do our best to deliver trusted journalism, regardless of the restrictions. 

We don't intend to make ourselves the story, but we also want to explain how different the conditions will be for our news teams, again in the interest of full transparency. 

Phones and laptops

Journalists working in China can expect to be monitored through the technology they use, be it through spyware, tracking loopholes in third-party apps, or state-controlled networks. CBC News staff will use new phones and laptops for the duration of the Games as a precaution. They have left their usual work phones and laptops at home in Canada. When the Games are over, these devices will be wiped clear by our IT departments.

The Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing stood ready to host the Olympics on Sunday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

This is an extreme but not unheard of precaution for journalists working overseas. On every deployment, CBC News assesses the risk to our internal networks and data, and often travels with additional phones to protect the integrity of our work. 

Limited movement

Every journalist will have their movements limited from the moment they land until they depart. Upon arrival, our teams enter into what is being called a "closed loop" system. Journalists can only move between the airport to the hotel, to the sport venues and broadcast facilities.

This means that CBC News teams accredited at the Games cannot leave the designated Olympic "loop" to report on the lives of ordinary citizens and their experience with the Games, COVID restrictions, or life in contemporary China. Transportation is entirely controlled by the Beijing organizers, including drivers and shuttle buses. Our journalists are not allowed to use any public transport or interact with the local public. These "closed loop" restrictions started in the new year, and will remain unchanged until after the Paralympics in March. 

Daily COVID-19 screening

The restrictions are being justified to contain the spread of COVID-19, and the highly transmissible Omicron variant. To cover these Games, our CBC News teams have had to provide proof of vaccination and supply negative pre-arrival PCR tests.

Cleaning staff wear protective suits to protect against COVID-19 as they clean the working space at the media centre of the Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboard ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

When our journalists arrived at the airport, they were met by teams in full protective gear to conduct arrival tests, which now continue every day throughout the Games. Everyone working within the Olympic bubble has daily throat swabs, and risks immediate isolation and quarantine in the case of a positive result. 

A Games like no other

With all of these restrictions and limitations on movement, you may be wondering why we have sent a news team. Some have asked if participating media are quietly endorsing or supporting China's government by accepting to work under these conditions. 

We understand those concerns, but we don't see it that way. We know from experience that the best journalism is told when our teams can see the reality for themselves. Many of those facts are already clear to our journalists upon arrival: these are perhaps the most restrictive and controlled Games in the history of the Olympic movement. 

Staff dressed in COVID-19 safety gear direct people as they make their way through the first steps of customs, COVID-19 testing and accreditations upon arriving at the airport for the Beijing Winter Olympics on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

As always, we will continue to report on all aspects of China now and throughout the year, including those stories that continue to make headlines around the world: the plight of Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Canadian citizens imprisoned in China, the political tensions in Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan, and the fact human rights violations are a simmering tension point between China and the western world, especially in Canada after the long detention and eventual release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

And we will also tell the story of a nation eager to show its strength to the world; a country poised to host a spectacular sporting event in spite of the significant logistical hurdles posed by COVID-19. 

As best as we can, we will try to explain the cost that China's citizens may pay to put these Games on. 

How to watch the opening ceremony

We are working closely with our colleagues from CBC Sports who have spent months preparing for this coverage. You can watch the opening ceremony on Friday, Feb. 4, beginning at 6:30 a.m. ET and hosted by Scott Russell, Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang. The ceremony will be available on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC News Network, CBC.ca and the CBC Sports and News apps.

A member of the Russian Olympic Committee practices during a scheduled speedskating session at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday in Beijing. (Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press)

We hope that you will follow along from home, knowing that our teams are doing the best they can to imbue every story we report on with accuracy, transparency, balance and fairness. 

Our athletes are proud to compete for Canada. We are proud to be there, to bring you the very best reporting we can, in spite of some very challenging restrictions. 


CBC is Canada's Olympics broadcaster and has full program guides and more at https://www.cbc.ca/olympics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brodie Fenlon

Editor in chief

Brodie Fenlon is editor in chief and executive director of daily news for CBC News.

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