Ranjona Banerji: Media double faults in Paes-Bhupathi match

19 Jun,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji

 

After years of working with city reporters, I accepted the fact that many grappled to understand the concept of “presumption of innocence”: If the police made an accusation against someone, why then it had to be true. But, of course, every accused has the right to defence. And while reporting a story, journalists are supposed to be objective. If they cannot provide both sides of a dispute, they must explain to the reader why they have failed.

 

But in the initial rounds of this rather unfortunate fight in Indian tennis, where Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have refused to partner India’s top tennis player Leander Paes in the 2012 London Olympics, the media started out batting for Bhupathi alone. In what appears to be a well-thought-out campaign, the doubles pair of Bhupathi and Bopanna sent out a series of letters and emails signalling their refusal to play with Paes even before the All Indian Tennis Association decided on the Olympic team. Several newspapers and news channels did not even make a willy-nilly attempt to contact Paes.

 

The exceptions are possibly DNA and Headlines Today, who got in touch with Paes’s father. But for the most part, it was about the terrible wrong that was about to be done to Bhupathi and Bopanna – being forced to play with Paes for the Olympics. Mail Today and The Times of India seemed like they had stakes in Bhupathi’s career.

 

These pressure tactics appeared to have failed and the AITA decided to pair Bhupathi with Paes. This is where objectivity completely failed India’s sports journalists. Bhupathi came on air and was quoted in print making all kinds of allegations against Paes. The Times of India at last informed us that they could not contact Paes. Therefore, the story remained one-sided.

 

Bhupathi and Bopanna meanwhile, perhaps emboldened by this out-and-out media support stated firmly that if either had to partner Paes, they were willing to forgo the Olympics. Despite the media’s usual pattern of extreme jingoism, even this display of lack of country love, did not deter the pro-Bhupathi-Bopanna journalists. One cannot state that sports journalists are less jingoistic than the rest – we see what they do to cricketers regularly. In fact I can guarantee that any top cricketer who refused to play for India because he did not like his team members would be hung, drawn and quartered by the media. By the way, cricket is not even an Olympic sport and technically, when Indian cricketers play, they represent the board. Not so for tennis, where professional players put aside career considerations to play Davis Cup and the Olympics.

 

However, as the week of allegations by Bhupathi and Bopanna came to a close, the media slowly started to turn. Paes may have contributed to that by issuing a statement that he was willing to go by the AITA’s decision. The Indian Express and Mid-Day started to look at being fair to all concerned. The Hindustan Times later also presented a larger picture. The Times of India came to the party last – but more on its edit pages than its sports pages.

 

Where a reader should have been given perspective on this battle and information to negotiate through this unseemly fight, he or she got a minefield of accusations from only one side. Now the villain of the piece is apparently the AITA as Bhupathi has approached the sports ministry to step in. Bhupathi has accused the selection committee of being a bunch of bureaucrats who know nothing about tennis. To me they appear to be former players – perhaps not of the stature of Bhupathi but tennis players nonetheless, a fact which needs to be pointed out in the media.

 

Monday night saw Times Now’s Arnab Goswami ask Mahesh Bhupathi some tough questions – some of which he struggled to answer. This is the first time that Bhupathi’s accusations were questioned. Later, the fathers of Paes and Bhupathi were on Times Now, where Paes Senior pointed out that Bhupathi was not blameless in this battle, while Bhupathi Senior tried to shrug that off and say the Olympic riddle had to be solved not the mistakes made by the boys.

 

Appalling as this ego battle between India’s top tennis players may be, the media’s partisan stand has been as appalling.

 

Post a Comment 

2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Media double faults in Paes-Bhupathi match”

  1. Ananda Puranik says:

    Every body seems to ignore the fact that in so far as doubles goes Leander and Mahesh have ceased to play leave alone being ranked. What I don’t quite understand is how one can overlook 2 players holding the same view. The media and others go as Roahan and Mahesh ganing up while it could well be Mr. Khanna and Leander ganging up

  2. Poopsonurface says:

    whats your take – some kind of calcutta partisan presswalla attitude – get a life !

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