When it comes to sports coverage, whether in print or television, triumphal gush mostly replaces knowledgeable reporting…
The way we cover sport in print or on television — in India and I dare say elsewhere — seems to be about assessing audience demand. Do viewers and readers primarily want information or reaffirmation? Facts and figures or reassurance that we pulled it off, be it the opening of the Games or the close contest on Tuesday at Mohali? Hard news or triumphal gush?
Indians being Indians, the media bets on the latter which explains the coverage we got last week. The good news on page one, the glitches on page two. The repeated self-congratulation on the opening ceremony smacked of sheer relief on the part of journalists who were being citizens first. No dry critiques on the sheer length of it all (thanks partly to Doordarshan's greed) or the overabundance of performers let loose in the stadium. Describe it instead as “boundless, relentless energy” (Times of India). And put approving quotes from the international press on page one. TV went further: “Was Delhi better than Beijing?” asked CNN-IBN, clearly bowled over by the Aerostat. After a month of negativism it was cheerleading all the way.
Assumed audience demand determined other elements of the coverage: India's performance and prospects elbowed out the performance of other contestants. Doesn't the allegedly globalising Indian care about anything other than Indian prospects? Apparently not. If the Malaysian weightlifter lifted the gold, the headline focused on the Indian who lost (Indian Express).
The Australian and British gymnasts (and a diminutive Scot) may have been streets ahead of our home-grown ones, but DD's recap lovingly focused on every tumble of the latter.
On Tuesday the satellite channels were beside themselves shrieking, “Sone ki barsaat!” (Shower of gold.) And then came the Mohali Moment. Pure Indian joy on display for all to see, the rest of the news be damned on news hour as channel after channel could not get enough of analysis on how V.V.S. Lakshman saved the day. ‘Sports lifts India's spirits', said Times Now by way of explanation.
And then there was Doordarshan. By now we are kind of used to the bad news. The national broadcaster (which happened to be the host broadcaster with exclusive rights to coverage) is like a prominent family member who not cannot be wished away on big ticket occasions though he fluffs his role each time. An embarrassing presence who manages to surprise just when you are thinking it can't get worse. So there it was, flashing ‘live' while showing deferred live, cramming in advertising, while you wondered where the opening ceremony went. Cringe-making, as always.
But what's new? Doordarshan got exclusive rights to telecast the Olympics in 2008, went to Beijing with a delegation whose officials numbered more than the Indian athletes we sent, and eventually spent more than it earned though it had exclusive telecast rights. Its telecasts were forgettable. We've learnt to live with all of this, but there are moments when you wish all the good folk of Prasar Bharati would scramble onto the Aerostat and float away to another planet.
Despite those 50-plus minutes of advertising it crammed into a three-hour ceremony last week, DD's collections will fall far short of what it spent this time around. And brace yourself for more of the same at the closing ceremony because a belligerent Prasar Bharati CEO has told reporters that there are some 80-plus minutes of advertising booked for it. He conceded that they might try other formats which will let people see the show even as the ads come on.
Then there was the telecast itself. Scrambling from channel to channel (four of them) to catch the action when Indian shooters got the gold you would have missed it anyway because they didn't show it when it happened. DD does not let you catch the winning moment, or savour it, as also when an Indian contestant finished second in a swimming heats, only to have the CWG song break in and play out in full.
Doordarshan's ditsy anchors make you want to clasp the worst of the satellite channel offenders to your bosom. Kanti and Vineet, whoever they are, have been gushing away at each other on DD Sports. “We've already won 20 percent of all the gold medals on offer!” said Kanti joyously on day two. And when an Indian didn't make it, Miss Gush would beam and say, “It's the fight and spirit that are very important. Remember, it's the spirit behind the game that is very important!”
Evidently, on our connections-friendly public broadcaster, you don't need any expertise to occupy a highly visible slot at a highly visible event. DD News on opening night wheeled out two of its regular news anchors to dish out banalities even as the telecast was in full flow. And as the Games unfolded, one was grateful for the imported commentators who knew the performance history of those we were seeing perform, and whom, unlike Kanti and Vineet, you never saw, only heard.