Chernobyl, Dracula: Korean broadcaster vows reform after using inappropriate photos to depict countries at Olympics

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A screen capture of MBC using a photo of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to introduce Ukraine during the Olympics opening ceremony.
A screen capture of MBC using a photo of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to introduce Ukraine during the Olympics opening ceremony.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — MBC president Park Sung-je has apologised after the Korean broadcaster used inappropriate photos to introduce countries in the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.

Photos of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the fictional vampire Count Dracula, and conqueror Genghis Khan were used to present Ukraine, Romania, and Mongolia respectively in MBC’s coverage of the July 23 event.

Other countries were also depicted with images labelled “tone-deaf” by social media users, including photos of civil unrest for Haiti and Bitcoin for El Salvador.

During a press conference yesterday, Park said MBC had “damaged the Olympic values of friendship, solidarity and harmony” and that the station is taking steps to ensure that the incident does not recur.

“I bow my head and deeply apologise,” Park was quoted as saying by the BBC.

MBC’s representation of Malaysia managed to escape criticism with the station opting to show generic images of Batu Caves and the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque as the contingent marched in.

Seoul-based freelance journalist Raphael Rashid made a Twitter thread last weekend compiling screenshots and translations of MBC’s Olympic gaffe.

As the Haitian team paraded into the stadium, MBC’s captions described the country as a place where “the political situation is fogged by the assassination of the president,” referring to the July 7 killing of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse.

MBC’s bleak descriptions didn’t stop there as it introduced Syria as a nation with “a civil war that has been going on for 10 years.”

Rashid pointed out that MBC also included the gross domestic product and Covid-19 vaccination rates of some countries, prompting viewers to question its relevance to the broadcast.

In a statement on July 24, MBC said its original intention was to make it easier for viewers to understand the entering countries at a glance during the ceremony.

However, the station admitted that it had made an “inexcusable mistake” and that the vetting process for the materials was not thorough enough.

“We recognise the seriousness of the issue during the broadcast of the Olympic Games.

“We will thoroughly investigate the process of image selection, subtitling, and inspection and strictly take follow-up measures based on the investigation result.

“Furthermore, we will fundamentally re-examine the production system of sports programs to avoid any similar accidents in the future,” said MBC.

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