Thursday, May 30, 2013

Media attack on Srinivasan has gone too far; must stop now.….

Srinivasan of the BCCI is no saint. His defiance, which which borders arrogance, makes him easy to hate. It would have been good if he had quit as BCCI President on his own, and I was generally one who believed he should have. Not because he was guilty, but simply out of propriety. But over the last several days and because of the way media has personalized its attack on him, my feelings have turned. He’s suddenly become the victim, who is being targeted. I now think he shouldn’t quit; if only to show media its place. If the issue earlier was one of BCCI’s abuse of power, it has now become one of the media’s abuse of its powers.

How right is it for media to attack Srinivasan for so long and in such a vengeful way and paint him as some dark devil? He is no terrorist for god’s sakes. Or a murderer or even a convicted fraudster. At best, he faces a conflict of interest charge, on which the Madras HC found no merit, and on which a SC 2-judge bench was divided.  The larger SC bench is now expected to start hearings in July. Srinivasan is not in violation of any law. Like I said, good propriety would require him to step down. But good propriety would also require that media conducted itself in a reasonable, restrained manner. But the way it has gone after him, it looks more like an ego issue and an assertion of its power than anything else. What does media have as evidence against Srinivasan? Have they produced any document (any “scoop”?) that shows Srinivasan was involved with his son-in-law in the betting scandal? Either personally or as CSK owner? And more importantly, even if he was involved in the betting, is there anything at all that shows that he “fixed” the matches in any way? Nothing. Then why is media going so strongly against him? It did the right thing by raising the issue. Now the right process must take over.

But media in our country loves to play god. To be the moral compass of the nation. If we find the BJP and Shiv Sena’s moral policing in Mumbai to be unacceptable (public display of affection in Bandra, dress code for mannequins etc), then we should find media’s moral politicing unacceptable too. Besides, its not just moral policing. Media also abuses its powers in other ways – by character assassination of whoever it wants to. It uses this power routinely with politicians when TV anchors become judges and pass verdicts. And now media has started using its power against private institutions as well.

For BCCI is a private body. It is because it is a private body that cricket has developed so magnificently in India. Had it been a government outfit, we would probably have been at the bottom of the list of the world’s cricket playing nations just like we are in every other sport. Incidentally, all cricketing associations worldwide – be it Cricket Australia or the England and Wales Cricket Board or even Cricket South Africa – are non-government “private” bodies. Just like BCCI is. Because BCCI is a member of the ICC, “India” gets to play matches worldwide. If media believes BCCI is a private fiefdom, then so are the other bodies. Media has to pull back now. Those who support this type of media vigilantism should worry that it may soon start to attack private individuals as well. It’s Srinivasan this time. It could be any of us the next time.

Besides, I have never understood how we can be so naïve about family relations, and assume that family members flock together all the time. I simply cannot understand how a person can be held responsible for the activities of his nephew or niece or mother-in-law or father-in-law. Or in case he lives away from his “close” relatives like his mother and father, or brother and sister, be “presumed” responsible for their conduct. All of them would be acting independently, doing what they do as they choose, without anyone knowing what they do. Is it anyone’s point that when one family member assumes a public office, all others must stop doing whatever they do because they would all be presumed to be beneficiaries of his public office? Bizarre.

Media can surely demand that the probe panel members be chosen by a court, not by the BCCI itself. That would be fair. That would eliminate any influence Srinivasan could wield on the results of the probe. Or media could file a PIL and ask the court to sack Srinivasan. The court would dispassionately hear all sides of the argument, and figure out if there was merit in his resigning. Or media could find at least some shreds of evidence, and then demand that he quit. Right now, there is evidence against Srinivasan’s son-in-law, but nothing that links him to the scandal himself.

To me, this appears to be a witch hunt, orchestrated perhaps by the powerful politicians’ lobby to wrest power back. Maybe they don’t like a corporate honcho running the country’s most powerful sports body. Cricket has hundreds of millions of followers. Politicians would love to bask in the glory of the hugely successful IPL. That is why all politicians – with the notable exception of Narendra Modi, who also will fall in line soon – are arraigned against Srinivasan, while cricket stalwarts like Kumble are supporting Srinivasan, preferring him to the wily politicians.

Media seems to want a different set of rules for itself than for others. When the Nira Radia episode broke out, Barkha Dutt was squarely implicated, but she didn’t resign. In fact, hardly anyone in the media demanded her resignation. She organized a pathetic looking “courtroom drama” on-air with other journalists “grilling” her with their questions. How convenient. Likewise, when a Zee journalist was stung by Naveen Jindal, and it appeared that the media group had tried to extort Rs 100 crores from him, the Chairman/promoter of the channel was not asked to resign. Why? What happened to the propriety then?

Srinivasan must be praying that another story breaks and the media spotlight goes off him. If another corruption episode breaks for example, media interest would shift. That’s what happened with Anna. He was the darling one day, and then the tide suddenly turned. Media got distracted by other developments, and now he is no where. Kejriwal attracted much media attention with his serial press conferences, but very soon media got onto something else. Srinivasan must be sincerely praying that media gets distracted and he be spared. And so am I now. Honestly, how long can media keep flogging the same horse, which now looks increasingly dead.

The real truth is that whoever has power in India abuses it. We know that politicians and the bureaucracy abuse their powers. But media is no different. It is powerful and it knows that. One news channel in fact took much pride (in fact it ran a promo) in claiming that it had made a CM resign. For media, Srinivasan has become an ego issue. Srinivasan should have quit long back, but maybe now he shouldn’t…..

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