The present raging controversy over “spot-fixing” in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has occupied a major part of the news coverage over the past two weeks. Given the cult status of the game here, one is not surprised by the anger against the avaricious personalities who brought disrepute to the game. But, the coverage of the scandal looks like Pack Journalism.
What is Pack Journalism? According to an essay in the Global Media Journal of Purdue University, Pack Journalism “is a phenomenon by which large groups of reporters from different media outlets collaborate to cover the same story. They cite or draw from the same sources, simultaneously, with the same purpose and employing the same methods. They move in a swarm where they observe carefully what the others are doing. Oftentimes, they flock from hot spot to hot spot, clump together in a hotel overlooking the streets, and crowd outside courthouses, city halls, or at the scene of an accident or catastrophe. Their main goal is to obtain comments from the important sources.”
The term Pack Journalism was first coined by Timothy Crouse in his 1973 book “The Boys on the Bus,” on the media coverage of the U.S. presidential elections. He wrote: “They all fed off the same pool report, the same daily handout, the same speech by the candidate; the whole pack was isolated in the same mobile village. After a while, they began to believe the same rumors, subscribe to the same theories, and write the same stories.”
There are many reasons for Pack Journalism. The foremost is the desire of journalists to be on the right side of the argument and their dread of being unwittingly caught with the losing side. It is not that Pack Journalism is always without its advantages. The recent Justice Verma Committee’s excellent report on legal reforms for better laws for gender justice following the gruesome Delhi gang-rape and murder would not have been possible but for the power of Pack Journalism.
IPL, an afterthought
But, I believe that the rage in the case of IPL is essentially an afterthought. The arrest of players belonging to Rajasthan Royals by the Delhi police during the final days of the IPL season six blew the lid. The media should have been in the forefront of exposing the rot that had seeped into this sport. IPL gave enough indication that something is rotten in this model right from its first season. This paper’s editorial rightly said: “Indian cricket is paying the price for the original sin Mr. Srinivasan and his supporters committed when he got the Board Of Control For Cricket In India’s (BCCI) rules amended in 2008 to allow his company, India Cements, to bid for an IPL franchise.”
Then came a series of events: the infamous exit of Lalit Modi, the drama of the formation of the Kochi team and the exit of Shashi Tharoor from the Union Cabinet, Shashank Manohar’s promise to clean up the mess, the court cases between A.C. Muthiah and N. Srinivasan, the fight between the Sahara group and the BCCI over Pune, the telecast rights row, the controversy over the termination of the Deccan Chargers franchise, the induction of Dhoni as an employee of India Cements, and finally the appointment of L. Sivaramakrishnan to the International Cricket Council (ICC) panel. Each one of these developments gave journalists ample scope to do a comprehensive investigation into the murky world of IPL.
It is not that there was no media coverage of these events. There was enough reportage. But, every story was limited in its scope of investigation and each of the above listed malaise was seen in isolation and dealt in isolation. Two important beats of modern journalism — politics and business — failed to even embark on a study to understand the diabolic convergence that was taking place in the name of cricket.
A well-researched, due diligence, corporate report in the business section of any newspaper or television channel would have explained the byzantine nature of investment by the corporate houses that own the teams. What is the business model for these teams? Is it an advertisement for an existing company? Is it a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity for these corporates to promote cricket and young talents? Is it a business activity in itself? Is it a sport? Is it entertainment? The media failed to raise hard questions. The IPL was a carnival in which the general public and media were held in trance, enchanted by its mesmerising quality. Or, as Nirmal Shekar wrote, the Indian Premier League version of cricket is exactly at a crossroads where Imagined (Advertised) India meets Real India.
From the days of Mohammed Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje to the recent case of the young Pakistani speedster Mohamed Amir, the media acted as the whistle-blower. In the IPL case, it came to the party late. Hence, its punch as Pack Journalism will be below its weight.