Is offensive media commentary spoiling the Rugby World Cup?

This is the image used on the TV3 site to represent the WallabiesIt’s been a while since I’ve had a rant on this blog and this one is unrelated to the search industry, so please bear with me.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a rugby NUT and an All Blacks tragic. So I’ve been following the Rugby World Cup action very closely over the past few weeks. The thing is, I’m finding this particular RWC season to be almost unbearable from a media perspective.

First it was the media coverage following the All Black’s 41 to 10 win over Tonga. The New Zealand media were bad enough, claiming the All Blacks played poorly and that the 41 point victory wasn’t decisive enough.  Which prompted me to ask Twitter:

“If a 31 point win margin *fails as a decisive victory* then how many freaking points did the #allblacks need to win by?”

Then there was the Wall Street Journal piece, written by someone who clearly doesn’t know anything about rugby (“New Zealand – nicknamed the All Blacks due to their attire” – REALLY?), claiming that the All Blacks “failed to inspire” and that “the win wasn’t sufficient to reassure fans”.

Of course, there have been the expected digs at the All Blacks team by the Australian media, about how they were going to choke, just like the last World Cup and Aussie television news anchors having a good old chuckle at the done-to-death sheep / Israel Dagg jokes wheeled out by the sports reporters. Commentators Andrew Slack and Ken Sutcliffe for Channel Nine in Australia clearly find it difficult to hold back their bias when it comes to their coverage of Wallabies matches. But in my opinion, there is a clearly defined line between light-hearted fun poking and outright racist commentary.

Today, New Zealand’s TV3 stepped over that line, in my opinion. With their One Eyed Kiwi Commentary of today’s game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, I think 3News have sullied New Zealand rugby with their offensive, juvenile and racist pre-match banter. I wanted the All Blacks to win as much as anybody, but that promoted commentary was simply embarrassing.

Think I’m over-reacting? Here are some extracts:

  • “Well here we go… the big one, the All Blacks totally dismembering our Aussie cousins from across the ditch and marching on to hand a hiding to the limpet mine-carrying nation in the final.”
  • “Refresh your browser occasionally. We’ll warn you when video is up with the words ‘VIDEO UP’ (even an Aussie could follow that)”.
  • “…here’s some friendly folly fire at the convicts from the island.
  • “The first Wallaby has been seen inspecting Eden Park.” (accompanied by the picture above of a giant convict carrying a rugby ball and chain).
  • “What do you call an Aussie with half a brain? Gifted.”

And on it goes, with more crude anti-Australian jokes thrown into the mix. Based on his tweets, the content appears to have been written by a post-grad journalism student called Michael Oliver who is apparently about to be employed by TV3.

Now my main problem with this is not so much the content, as juvenile as it is. You can see this type of immature trolling on Twitter or Facebook about any big sporting event. No, my problem with this lies in the way it is presented on the 3News web site. It is published as *official* RWC content. There is no banner or byline indicating this content is written by a guest blogger or a student. The content is simply presented as endorsed coverage of what is likely the most important game of the World Cup, on the site of the official media sponsor covering the event.

I am concerned that the content will be viewed as offensive, if not outright racist and by allowing it to be published, TV3 is endorsing those views. As an Australian, I was quite offended, even though I (mostly) live in New Zealand and am a hugely vocal supporter of the All Blacks. I can only imagine how Wallabies supporters would feel upon reading that. And the petty limpet mine (Rainbow Warrier) reference is really quite a controversial and dangerous topic to bring up with so many French media representatives in NZ right now.

What’s worse is how proud the author is of his field day approach:

@mj_oliver : I’m manning tonight’s live updates for 3News.co.nz. We’re gunning for the most parochial commentary known to human kind. #RWC2011 Link to tweet

@mj_oliver: Sanctioned trolling. I love my future job. http://www.3news.co.nz/One-eyed-Kiwi-VIDEO-LIVE-UPDATES-All-Blacks-Vs-Australia-semifinal-2-RWC-2011–highlights/tabid/1534/articleID/229706/Default.aspx Link to tweet

With millions of international viewers studying New Zealand closely right now, can TV3 really afford to be seen as endorsing such potentially racist drivel? I don’t think so.

TV3 have a very strict policy when it comes to comments left on their site:

  • No comments that seek to cause offence on the grounds of race, sex, sexuality, religion, age or ethinicity will be tolerated
  • No comments that are obscene, offensive, pornographic, vulgar, profane, indecent or otherwise illegal
  • No comments that are defamatory in nature

Right. But that apparently doesn’t apply to their own contributors?

I left the very first comment on the page, politely expressing my concerns, but for some reason, @3newsnz seems to be only publishing positive comments. When I tweeted Mr Oliver about this, he claimed he didn’t have control over comments.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments. And unlike the team at 3News, I’ll actually publish them.

POSTSCRIPT 1: Since I started writing this blog post, TV3 have put up a pseudo disclaimer in red text on the page. It reads:

“Thanks for tuning in to tonight’s completely biased commentary. It was all in good fun, and no offence to our friends across the ditch was intended. The Wallabies weren’t allowed to play, and that’s entirely due to their opposition being on another level.

Yeah, that’ll fix everything.

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