Sports media: Responsibility versus…?

Sunil Gavaskar says that the media should support their country’s team. It just shows that though he may have been one of the greatest batsmen of his time, he doesn’t know the first thing about journalism! The most important lesson any student journalist is taught is that they will not get paid to have opinions. Objectivity is the beginning and end of news reporting.

The truth is sacred for any journalist. There is no exception. One war correspondent once remarked that his loyalty lay not to his country but to his readers. People have a right to know the truth; and the news reporter has no right to judge.

Hurricane Katrina is a good example. The US administration is seething because ‘the media is painting a grim picture’. As the BBC newsreader pointed out, the media is reporting what is happening. Because it happens to be grim does not mean it shouldn’t be told. The logic behind the news media is not making people feel good; it is telling them what is going on.

Anyway, I wasn’t talking about serious issues like war or natural disasters but about a field of professional entertainment—sport. Which makes it all the more ridiculous when people like our former opening batsman make comments like this. And when cricketers—this doesn’t apply to other sports too much, fortunately—try to tell the media, to use a favourite cliché, ‘how to do their job’.

Yet it appears that the young brigade of sports journalists in the country are more loyal to the hype and jingoism that goes with sport rather than accurate reporting or even analysis. Leaving aside the old guard, writers and commentators alike seem clueless about the games they cover. Like most of the Indian public, they understand only results. But you can forgive the public—after all, they are only paying to get entertained and are well within their rights to rant over bad results and gloat over victories. From the media, though, you expect something different. In other words, some responsibility, whether it comes to news or analysis.

In sport, especially with cricket in India, sponsor pressure is very high, and with it the pressure to present a rosy picture. In my short-term existence as chief copyeditor for a national daily’s sports web site, we were specifically told that: (a) make sure X, Y and Z’s guest columns get carried right up front irrespective of what tripe they write; (b) if India is not doing well, try not to highlight that!

Given this sort of work culture, is it a surprise that the sports media—and others—is going to the dogs? Where do we go for good analysis? How much of the news we hear is true?

Speaking of analyses, a few examples. It was not specifically India’s failure to defend 276 last night that asks questions of the side. It is just yet another final lost that brought the issue to the forefront. For a very long time now Indian bowlers have been conceding runs like water through a sieve. Earlier, when they won despite that, it turned the focus away from what was really wrong.

Virender Sehwag does get a lot of quick runs, but it seems to me that he is not half the batsman he was when he came into the side—his technique has gone to the dogs and he looks clearly unfit to me. Now he—and almost everyone else I can think of!—will say that it doesn’t matter because he is effective. That’s true, but then what’s the difference between him and, say, Andrew Flintoff? I’d say Flintoff was better because he is a far better bowler!

Then there is Sania Mirza. Her current ranking is in the top fifty and India is delighted to have a new star. Having reached the fourth round of the US Open, there was already talk of the title. I jest not! Is it just that we are avoiding the issue or is that we are ignorant of the WTA ranking system? At this time, Mirza has no points to defend. Which is why she is finding is relatively easier to climb upwards. Next year, she will have to defend the points she has earned. For instance, if she does not make it to the fourth round of the US Open, she will end up losing points!

The thing is, none of this is rocket science. Why is it not making the papers, then?


3 Replies to “Sports media: Responsibility versus…?”

  1. Do you know that in a poll, journalists ranked just below politicians in terms of credibility? I think that media is really too compromised by big business house interest to exercise that simple thing called objectivity. Hate being cynical, but it is true. Most media organisations have an agenda and they follow it relentlessly. So I understand your ire about country over statistics. I say let’s go beat up the Jains and the Birlas (that is now my signature sign off on your blogs—find someone to beat up!)

  2. Just below politicians!?! I knew that you (ah, yes, note the pronoun!!!) were a corrupt lot, but this is shocking anyway!!

  3. Hi Alpana,
    I guess there are better ways to tackle the various media barons’ prejudices and capitalistic interests than beating them up.
    For one, you (nay, we) can write in your blog about any issue that is close to your heart (or even mind), while following all the avowed principles of journalism and media ethics, including the much venerated objectivity. And that too without having to bother the preying eyes of an unscrupulous editor, marketer or profiteer.
    Though, you might have to hope that enough people read your blog postings and thus promote the practice of objective reporting!

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