Before examining relationships between the Olympics and the mass media we need to establish an understanding of the media. As the mass media are in the business of communication, attention also has to be given to the general characteristics of the process of communication. Whether we are talking to a friend, sending an email, watching television or reading the morning newspaper, we are constantly involved in the process of communication. Human movements, particularly in a game or contest, also act as a symbolic form of communication. This language, however, has a limited.
The most important mass media are newspapers, radio, television, film, books, magazines, recorded sound and the Internet. They are large and complex institutions, operate in a highly competitive market, employ thousands of people, and have great impact upon large audiences. It is possible to study the functions and uses of mass communication at two levels.
A wider perspective suggests that we could consider these functions in terms of society as a whole. As most people do not have the chance to attend the Olympic Games in person, it is the media that form the bridge between the Olympics and us. In doing that the media are performing the dual role of offering opportunities for getting new information but also of limiting our perspective on the Olympics.
This is because the reality brought to us through the media is always edited and ‘re-presented’ by those who control them—the producers, sponsors, editors, programme directors and commentatorsAt the dawn of the modern Olympics in 1896 neither the term mass media nor the radio, television or Internet existed. The lack of technologies, widespread illiteracy and other factors confined the meaning of the mass media primarily to newspapers.
In Athens that year only eleven journalists ventured to attend the Games and reported the revival of Olympic tradition. Several British athletes as well as competitors from other countries took an active part in the making of Olympic history by writing articles for national and local newspapers.