Perth, Australia
September 26, 2000

Australian TV Misses While Salon Scores

by Mark Naglazas

IT WAS no surprise Seven's blanket coverage of the Olympics would yield the biggest ratings figures in Australian television history, with the numbers telling only half the story. For example, I was at Perth Airport on Saturday afternoon and hundreds of passengers were gathered around monitors watching the sprint finals - monitors that normally carry crucial information on departures and arrivals.

What is surprising, however, is the extent to which the other networks have conceded defeat during this extraordinary Olympic period - not just in filling their schedules with repeats but by virtually ignoring the Games.

Seven's competitors would argue that without access to closely guarded Games footage there is no point in putting together programs other than the run-of-the-mill highlights at the end of the news. But isn't this exactly what Nine faced when it launched The Footy Show, which has managed to become the top-rating AFL program in the country without a single frame of the action that Seven keeps locked up tighter than Fort Knox? >

Why couldn't Nine put together an Olympics version of The Footy Show, with a bunch of witty, insightful sports fanatics and experts - not exactly a rare commodity in Australia - who on a nightly basis plunge beneath Seven's tidal wave of images to see what's really going on? Further, it doesn't always have to be comedy in the mould of Seven's own Roy and HG, who are making a bigger splash at the Sydney Olympics than those incredible Dutch swimmers or The Fat over on ABC. The jokes could be mixed in with the kind of genuine analysis that is sadly lacking on Seven's around-the-clock coverage and even in the print media, which is scurrying around so furiously to cover events that nobody has a moment to reflect.

THE kind of analysis I'd like to see on television is happening in the Net magazine Salon, with Games reporter Greg Kamiya providing wonderfully literate description and commentary on the performances and the surrounding phenomena. For example, Kamiya compared the melodramatics of the mesmerising Playboy-posing Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina to the heroine of a Tolstoy novel and suggested that "the patriotic chant 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi' sounds uncomfortably close to oink, oink, oink".

Salon also recently published a wonderful piece by Jon Entine , author of the book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why we Are Afraid to Talk About It, in which he argues it is more racist to ignore the fact that genetics determines levels of sporting achievement. For example, writes Entine, Kenyan runners not only hold one third of the top times in middle and long-distance races but the Kalenjins of the Great Rift Valley adjacent to Lake Victoria (roughly 1.5 million people) provide 40 per cent of those winners, making it the greatest concentration of raw athletic talent in the world.

If Seven's so-called experts could give us this level of analysis instead of telling us what we can see with our own eyes ('Shirvington needs to get a good start here") or providing basic facts, then we would have an Olympics coverage worth its weight in gold.

Copyright West Australian Newspapers Limited