Asian American Journalists Group Speaks Up on Olympic Coverage Concerns

From NBC’s pronunciation of “PyeongChang” to questionable coverage and commentary of the South Korea-based 2018 Winter Olympics, the Asian American Journalists Association has spoken up on the need to cover the event in a culturally sensitive way.

For some viewers of the 2018 Winter Olympics on NBC, something has been off about the coverage.

Particularly, the network’s pronunciation of PyeongChang, the county in South Korea where the Olympics are being held, has proved a major sticking point for many, including members of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

The correct pronunciation is “Pyeong-ch-ah-ng,” but NBC made the decision to stick with “Pyeong-ch-ay-ng,” with NBC Broadcasting and Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus telling Sports Business Journal in November that the network considered the pronunciation “cleaner” for viewers.

“We heard a variety of ways to say PyeongChang during our preparation for the Games, and ultimately decided on the version in which the second syllable sounds like ‘twang,’” an NBC Sports spokesperson told the Washington Post last week. “Although we have informed all of our commentators of this, with 2,400 hours of coverage and more than 80 on-air personalities, you may occasionally hear a slightly different pronunciation.”

The decision at NBC came about after an internal debate, and that debate was one that has continued at other news outlets since. Responding to this issue and others, AAJA recently called on news organizations to “exercise care” in the way they cover the Olympic Games and discuss South Korea.

In particular, the group has called on news outlets to use the “Pyeong-ch-ah-ng” pronunciation when possible. CeFaan Kim, the cochair of AAJA’s MediaWatch program, recorded a clip in which he clearly pronounced the name of the area to address the confusion that had cropped up.

“Unless you’re pronouncing it the way our guidance shows, it’s incorrect,” Kim told the Post.

Other Olympic-related issues that AAJA has raised concerns about include a TV station’s use of a graphic that misstated the host city as “P.F. Chang,” a comment during NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremonies that partly credited Japan for South Korea’s economic growth, and highly criticized comments by New York Times columnist Bari Weiss that implied figure skater Mirai Nagasu was an immigrant.

“AAJA applauds the news outlets and journalists that have acknowledged problems,” the group stated in a news release. “As always, AAJA is available to engage in a dialogue to foster fair and accurate coverage of the Asian American community.”

U.S. figure skater Miarai Nagasu, shown, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. (Andy Miah/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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