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Updated: August 22, 2013 15:54 IST

Righteous rage or Pack Journalism — 2

A.S. PANNEERSELVAN
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The Hindu

The overwhelming response to my column last week, “Righteous rage or Pack Journalism,” is an indicator of the popularity of cricket, and I do not want to delude myself into believing that it had anything to do with my prose. Not many responses were about the issues concerning media and journalistic practices. In fact, many were about the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the personalities involved in running the cricket administration in India.

But a closer reading helps gauge the range of issues journalists are expected to cover, the width and the breadth of issues starting from the structure of sports management in India, the legality of betting, the overlapping, multiple conflict of interests, the extraordinary interplay between high capital, politics, popular appeal, and the level of opaque arrangement that prevails within the Indian business environment even in this era where state secrets are no longer secret, thanks to the efforts of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

Before and after

To understand the dynamics of the IPL reporting, it is important to look at this league competition in two parts: before May 16, when three players were arrested on the charges of match fixing, and after May 16. Till that point, the IPL was a carnival. People loved it. And the media as a whole joined the party. The “public interest” element was overwhelmed by “what public is interested in.” However, post May 16, the IPL became a cause célèbre and public interest was brought back to the narrative, but not always, and not by every media, in a manner that was uniformly rigorous. Hectoring, to selective leaks and speculative reporting coexisted with a real unearthing of fact and sober analysis of what was ailing Indian cricket. My response to readers about The Hindu’s coverage is located within this larger framework.

The Hindu’s coverage was, and is, an interesting study about how to deal with a topic that has captured the nation’s imagination. The Hindu did not subsume all other issues under the IPL avalanche. It did not lose its sense of proportion. From the carnage wrecked by Maoists in Chhattisgarh to the Prime Minister’s visit to Japan to the death of veteran singer T.M. Soundararajan, no important news was missed or its significance reduced due to the IPL stories.

About evidence

Among the numerous articles on the IPL crisis, I consider the investigative report — “Case for CSK’s termination appears strong” (May 26, 2013) — as the one that distinguished this paper from the others. That story was not about the moral high ground. It was not about general principles of fair play and sportsmanship. It was about evidence-based journalism. The newspaper sourced the most important material of the IPL, the Franchise Agreement, which, for reasons best known to only the BCCI and the IPL, is a secret and confidential one, that among many things includes the conditions for termination of franchise. This irrefutable document gave a material underpinning to all arguments about conflict of interests, especially Clause 11.3 (c) which reads: “the Franchisee, any Franchisee Group Company and/or any Owner acts in any way which has a material adverse effect upon the reputation or standing of the League, BCCI-IPL, BCCI, the Franchisee, the Team (or any other team in the League) and/or the game of cricket.” The investigative report read the BCCI Anti-Corruption Code and the IPL Franchise Agreement together, and said that there was a case for the CSK’s termination.

Interview

Yet, some readers asked: when the newspaper’s editorial asked BCCI president Srinivasan to resign, why does it interview him? And, why was there no question about Mr. Srinivasan’s son-in-law, Gurunath, in that interview? There is a difference between the editorial and the news pages. The editorial is the stand taken by the paper on an issue. But, news pages are wider in their scope and are necessarily mandated to provide space for more voices. Mr. Srinivasan’s interview establishes that this paper was not conducting a media trial but providing well-rounded coverage. Second, the interview did carry a question about Mr. Srinivasan’s son-in-law. Since Gurunath’s arrest and the interview happened on the same day, this answer alone was shifted to the info graphics on the front page along with the arrest story (May 25, 2013). In hindsight, I feel that it would have read better had that particular Q&A been retained in the main interview itself.

Some readers felt that Gurunath’s profile was too sketchy and did not offer any insight into either his sporting engagement or his un-sportsman-like conduct for which he is being charged now (“Low-profile Gurunath a sportsperson to the core,” May 25, 2013). I tend to agree with the readers. It was a positive portrayal and yet the profile does not have a single attributable quote. The anonymity of sources is a special journalistic privilege. It is invoked in special cases and cannot be trivialised. There is vast literature on anonymous sources. The public broadcaster, NPR, has a written code: “Don’t let sources offer anonymous opinions of others. Unidentified sources should rarely be heard at all and should never be heard attacking or praising others in our reports.”

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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