CORRECTION: NBC sports boss says China has become more open

(Corrects wording throughout Ebersol quote in penultimate paragraph)

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC’s sports chief said Wednesday that the Olympics and the recent Sichuan earthquake have brought an “incredible openness” to China.

Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said the May 12 quake, which has killed more than 67,000 people, has revealed how the country has changed in the coverage of the disaster and building safety as well as other issues.

“These are not things we would have read about or seen much about even in this country 10 years ago,” Ebersol said of the stories coming out of the earthquake region. “Reporters would not have had this kind of access.”

Ebersol said that when the International Olympic Committee in 2001 gave the Summer Olympics to China, he came away with the feeling that it eventually would lead to a major change for the communist nation.

“I knew it would be a rocky road to get there and (that) there would be lots of protests and opposition movements, but I really believe, as I have seen happen so many times, every country (that has had the Olympics), particularly those who are not democracies, they were changing events for those societies,” he said.

Ebersol’s comments mark one of the few times in recent months that NBC officials have spoken publicly about August’s Summer Games, which have been mired in controversy over human rights issues, Darfur and Tibet.

Some in the company have been nervous about the situation because NBC and parent company GE have a lot of money at stake with the Games.

“You have to say that once again, the Olympics has opened up another region of the world,” Ebersol said. “Have they opened up as much as some would like? Obviously not, but it is part of a process that only seems to come with the Olympics moving on to a new area. The Olympics always brings exposure to both the good and bad of a country.”

NBC has yet to announce the schedules, announcers and NBC Universal networks involved in the Olympic telecasts, which will include NBC and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo and several NBC Universal cable channels as well as extensive interactive and mobile units. Ebersol said the network would reveal details in June.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter