Beer, whiskey and 518m people: Ireland according to Korean TV’s Olympic guide

MBC apologises for using a Chernobyl photograph for Ukraine and a pizza photograph for Italy

Chernobyl for Ukraine: MBC’s Olympics opening ceremony captions included a photograph of the doomed nuclear power station

For television broadcasters worldwide, the parade of nations during the opening of the Olympics can be an exercise in diplomacy and global awareness, with media outlets resorting to trivia nuggets, athlete profiles and geopolitical musings to fill airtime.

But one South Korean broadcaster has apologised for its choice of "inappropriate" images that appeared next to the names of several countries Friday during its coverage of the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony. The images drew criticism from viewers, who said they were offensive or had perpetuated stereotypes.

As the contingent of Olympic athletes from Italy entered Tokyo's Olympic Stadium for the parade of nations, the broadcaster, MBC, aired a photo of a pizza. For Norway? A piece of salmon. Then there was Ukraine, which the broadcaster reminded viewers was where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened in 1986, complete with a photo of the doomed power station.

“The images and captions are intended to make it easier for the viewers to understand the entering countries quickly during the opening ceremony,” MBC said in a statement in English, posted on Twitter on Saturday. “However, we admit there was a lack of consideration for the countries concerned, and inspection was not thorough enough. It is an inexcusable mistake.”


Raphael Rashid, a freelance journalist based in Seoul, drew attention to the images on Twitter.

“When Haitian athletes entered the stadium, an on-screen explanation said, ‘the political situation is fogged by the assassination of the president,’” Rashid wrote. “When Syrian athletes entered, it said ‘rich underground resources; a civil war that has been going on for 10 years.’”

For Romania, the broadcaster used an image of Count Dracula. And for the Marshall Islands, it noted that it had once been a nuclear test site for the United States.

When it was Malaysia’s turn in the parade of nations, MBC showed a graphic with that country’s coronavirus vaccination rate, along with its gross domestic product.

For Ireland, the caption under a map of Europe with an arrow pointing to the island read: "Whiskey and Beer, Natural Scenery." It also gave Ireland's population as 518 million, losing the decimal point that should have reduced it by 99 per cent, to a more accurate 5.18 million.

In its statement, MBC said it would investigate the process of how the images, and the captions that accompanied them, had been chosen and vetted.

“Furthermore, we will fundamentally reexamine the production system of sports programs to avoid any similar accidents in the future,” the broadcaster said.

The Korea Herald reported that this was not the first time that MBC had made a misstep during the Olympics. In 2008, the news website said, the broadcaster was penalised by the Korea Communications Commission for disparaging countries participating in the Beijing Olympics with its captions. The broadcaster described Sudan as an unstable country with a long civil war and Zimbabwe as a country with deadly inflation. – New York Times, with additional reporting