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South Korean broadcaster apologizes after using stereotypical and offensive images to represent countries during Olympics opening ceremony

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A South Korean broadcast company has apologized after using stereotypical and offensive images to represent countries during their broadcast of the Olympic games in Tokyo. 

Seoul-based MBC broadcasted the opening ceremony on Friday, where athletes from each country walk into the Olympic stadium with flags and outfits to represent their homes. MBC put up photos for each country as they entered – including a pizza for Italy and salmon for Norway.

Some of the images were not just stereotypical exports from the countries, but offensive reminders of dark periods, as shown in in photos taken by South Korea-based journalist Raphael Rashid.

For Haiti, MBC showed an image of protests, according to the images Rashid shared. The country is grappling with the recent assassination of its president. "When Haitian athletes entered the stadium, an on-screen explanation said 'the political situation is fogged by the assassination of the president,'" Rashid reported on Twitter. 

"When Syrian athletes entered, it said 'rich underground resources; a civil war that has been going on for 10 years,'" he added.

For Ukraine, there was a in image of Chernobyl, a 1986 nuclear disaster that has left the area radioactive.

For the Marshall Islands, the screen said the territory "was once a nuclear test site for the US, and is composed of more than 1,200 islands," Rashid wrote in his Twitter thread. "El Salvador was introduced with a picture representing Bitcoin," he added.

The company also used Dracula to represent Romania, according to Reuters and photos shared by other Twitter users.

Rashid tweeted that MBC included the GDP – gross domestic product – and vaccination rate for each country, "leaving netizens baffled." 

Not all of the images were offensive. For the U.K., MBC used photos of the queen, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, according to Rashid. They used a photo of South Korean boy band BTS to represent their country, according to Allkpop, a U.S.-based Korean pop blog, and images shared by Twitter users.

Tweets showing the images used by MBC went viral, and the company soon responded. 

"MBC used inappropriate images and captions to introduce some countries during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on July 23," the statement, shared on Twitter, reads. "We sincerely apologized to the countries concerned and the viewers."

The company said the purpose was to make it easier to understand which countries were entering during the ceremony. "However, we admit that there was a lack of consideration for the countries concerned and the inspection was not thorough enough," the statement reads. "It is an inexcusable mistake."

MBC said it will investigate its process of choosing images and subtitling. 

Rashid also reported that "in an unprecedented move" the company published its apology in English on the front page of its website.

On Monday, Park Sung-jae, chief executive of MBC, also held a news conference about the mishap. "Our broadcast violated the Olympic spirits of friendship, solidarity and unity in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic," Park said, according to Reuters. "I deeply apologize for our indiscriminate broadcasts, which lacked consideration for other countries."

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