There are less than two years to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. As the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) defines “to make for a more inclusive society for people with an impairment through Para sport” as the ultimate aspiration of the Paralympic Movement, this paper looks at the Paralympic Games as a social change movement and discusses the roles of broadcasting in achieving an inclusive society.
We conducted an analysis of how Channel 4 of the United Kingdom and NHK of Japan reported the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and we found Channel 4’s approach for broadcasting distinct in its presentation style where Paralympians talked about their impairments and backstories in the short videos introducing the athletes as well as in its deployment of people with an impairment as TV presenters and production team members. To explore these findings, we interviewed persons in charge at Channel 4 and production companies, as well as Paralympians featured in the coverage. Furthermore, we examined the impact of the Channel 4’s broadcasts on other broadcasters in the U.K., in neighboring Denmark and Germany, and in Japan, the host country of the coming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The research revealed the following. Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage was an ambitious challenge, starting from its campaign with a promotional video using expressions that broke down the stereotype of people with an impairment, which not only attracted TV viewers’ attention but also to shake off production staff’s bias against disability. The backstory portrayal of athletes’ impairments served as one of the two pillars of the Paralympic coverage, along with its sportscasts. This successful achievement was supported by the trustful close relationships between the production team and the athletes that had been carefully developed. Besides Channel 4 recruited persons with an impairment as TV presenters and production staff as an attempt for job creation for the disabled in the TV industry to promote their participation in society. Since the Channel 4’s Paralympic broadcasts, a number of actors and entertainers with an impairment have been hired for general TV programs in the U.K. This move is being accelerated, driven by the political and economic trend of employment promotion of minorities under the Equality Act 2010.
Meanwhile, in Denmark and Germany where public service broadcasters take responsibilities in broadcasting the Paralympic Games, some developments have been observed such as longer broadcast hours for the Paralympic Games, but the broadcasters’ attitudes are not as ambitious as Channel 4 that regarded the Paralympic coverage as a good opportunity for social transformation. On the contrary, Japan sees some unprecedented moves including NHK’s open recruitment of persons with an impairment for reporters for the first time.
Channel 4 advocates “new normal,” in other words the idea that it is not a special thing but just normal for persons with an impairment appear on television and work in various fields of the TV industry, which is shared as a legacy of the 2012 London Paralympics across the broadcasting industry in the U.K.
Broadcasting should reflect society, and viewers’ common experience shall create acknowledgement and understanding, which promotes the minorities’ social participation. And we believe that is the role of broadcasting. An inclusive society is attained by continued movements of “reflection, empathy, and participation.” The example shown by the UK broadcaster suggests such role of broadcasting started functioning in the wake of the Paralympic Games. We believe the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics shall become a starting point for social transformation to create an inclusive society.