NBC apologises for correspondent's 'insensitive' comment at Pyeongchang Olympics

Japan athletes march in the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Japan athletes march in the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, NEW YORK TIMES) - US broadcaster NBC has apologised for a controversial comment made on Korea-Japan relations during last Friday's (Feb 9) opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, after receiving numerous complaints and angry posts online.

It was NBC's Asian correspondent, Joshua Cooper Ramo, who said "every Korean" thinks Japan has been a very "important" example to South Korea's own achievements.

Many South Koreans, as well as Korean-Americans, found the comment to be insensitive to the nation's own history, including Japan's colonial rule from 1910-1945.

His "insensitive" comment, which came when he noticed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in the crowd, sparked a storm of complaints from South Koreans on social media.

"Hey NBC, you forgot the Olympics were in Korea?" wrote a South Korean Twitter user. "Joshua Cooper Ramo should not speak for Koreans and obviously doesn't know any Koreans either. Nobody will tell you we are thankful for Japan occupation and they are not an example."

Some say it's questionable whether Ramo has been even following the news leading up to the current Olympics, as some of the disputes between South Korea and Japan erupted even during the preparation phase of the Games.

Ramo's remarks appeared to reinforce growing concerns among some South Koreans that the United States was favouring its partnership with Japan over that of its other longtime ally in the region, South Korea.

 
 

A host of thorny issues complicate the bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan, including issues surrounding "comfort women", or women used as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II.

For one, the original version of Korea's unified flag, under which North and South Korean players marched under at the opening ceremony, initially included a group of small Korean islets in the East Sea, known as Dokdo in Korean, over which Japan also claims sovereignty.

Tokyo calls them Takeshima.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry eventually decided to remove the disputed islets from the flag, after the Japanese government strongly protested, calling the original flag "extremely regrettable" and "unacceptable". The North Korean cheerleaders used a version of the flag which included the disputed islands.

"Hard to think of a worse thing to say to Koreans in this political environment," wrote Anna Fifield, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post, on Ramo's comments during the opening ceremony.

"How can someone be an 'Asian correspondent' and be so clueless?" wrote a blogger based in South Korea.

Following the backlash, NBC released the following statement on Saturday: "During our coverage of the Parade of Nations on Friday we said it was notable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the trip to Korea for the Olympics, 'representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation'. We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologise."

In spite of NBC's public apology that was broadcast live, many in South Korea and abroad said the apology was not enough, and Ramo should issue his own apology.

 
 

"NBC, 'sorry that you felt offended' isn't an apology and for Joshua Cooper Ramo, he might as well say German Nazi occupancy during World War II in Europe has been so important to those European countries' own transformations", said a Twitter user.

An online petition was set up asking the International Olympic Committee to "take a step" against NBC so that Ramo "can truly apologise" and "stop commenting."

"If the IOC does not act on this issue, we will consider that the IOC agrees on NBC's stance," the organizers of the petition wrote in a public statement.

By Sunday, more than 8,000 people had signed the petition.

Maureen Ryan, Variety's chief television critic, wrote in a review of NBC's broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremony that "Ramo's endless generalities about what constituted 'Asian' culture felt about as deep as a Wikipedia entry."

In addition to his role as an occasional Olympic commentator at NBC, Ramo is also co-chief executive of Kissinger Associates, an advisory firm founded by Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and sits on the board of directors for Starbucks and FedEx.