Ranjona Banerji: When sports journalists behave like unreasonable fans

09 Aug,2016

By Ranjona Banerji


Is it remarkable that once the BJP and the Prime Minister realised that attacking Dalits on the excuse of “cow protection” can be an electoral disaster our “patriotic” news channels have suddenly started “exposes” on cow vigilantes? I would guess, the answer is, “No, it is not remarkable, rather it is only to be expected.”


The Una incident happened on July 11. The Prime Minister spoke on August 6 and 7. Our exposes started around the same time. It is interesting to see how our differently our patriotic news channels covered the Dadri incident last year where Mohammed Ikhlak was murdered by a mob on the suspicion that he and his family had eaten beef.


What happens when powerful journalists take cues from government on how to cover stories or indeed what stories to cover? The Dalit anger has been simmering in Gujarat for a while. A massive Dalit rally in Ahmedabad a few days ago was completely ignored by television news, but not by news websites or newspapers. How long does it take a powerful journalist who speaks for the nation to understand this? Only when the Prime Minister speaks?


Intriguingly, the Prime Minister spoke of most cow vigilantes as “anti-social” elements. However, many of these cow vigilantes belong to Hindutva-related organisations, most affiliated in some way with the RSS and the BJP, both of which the prime minister belongs to. Therefore, “exposes” by our patriotic news channels ought perhaps to concentrate on these organisations, not just thugs and goons.


The other interesting fact – and this I have learnt from The Indian Express and not from television news – is that barring Himachal Pradesh, most cow vigilantes operate in states run by the BJP or BJP coalition governments. The attacks on Dalits and Muslims – who either eat beef or deal with dead cattle – have increased since the BJP came to power at the Centre. These are co-relations that our patriotic news channels may not appreciate but in a normal world, they would tickle the journalistic nose.




What is happening in Kashmir is the other issue for journalists. Times Now went over the top accusing Shah Faesal, an IAS officer from Kashmir, of something a little less than treason for a Facebook post where he asked what sort of a government shoots its own people. The patriotic news channel world is run by the George W Bush maxim: “you are either with us or against us”.


Journalists who have a little brain may be interested to read Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, in The Hindu, on Kashmir, on Kashmiris who work for the government and on the lost youth of that state.





Friend, former colleague and senior sports commentator Sharda Ugra had brought up some serious points in this piece for The Hoot, written in 2012, during the London Olympics:



And almost all of what she said then still stands today. There is a portion of the journalistic community whose only role seems to be to disparage any sort of sporting achievement. There is an enormous effort that takes an athlete to the world’s arena. In some ways, just being an Olympian is a massive achievement.


Can it be that only journalists and fans want athletes to do their best, to win medals and the athletes themselves do not?


My observation in this is that journalists too often behave like fans. And they either idolise someone to impossible heights or bring them down to despicable lows. You see this all the time with the Indian cricket team. One win and it is the best team in the world with the best and greatest caption and best and greatest players. One loss and it is the worst team in the world with third-grade players led by a fourth-grade caption. The same team, mind you. This attitude gets extrapolated to all sport.


Sport is supposed to be a contest between two people or teams but to listen and to read most of the Indian sports media, it appears that only one team competes and the other is there to kowtow to India’s current needs.


With the Olympics and other such sporting meets though, Indian has a very real problem. Historically, our performance has not been good barring our run in hockey. Therefore, we are without context. We are also not a very good sporting nation in the sense that we are always stuck in “win-loss”, not in the appreciation of the game, the form, the style, the method. This makes the pressure on the few athletes we have impossible. We are also largely concerned with sport as a nationalistic device.


Sadly, journalists appear to be no different here and add to that the need for sensational headlines. Therefore, an Indian athlete who qualifies for the last 8 in a tough field where the world’s best have gathered and comes 8th  is seen as a “loser”.


Perhaps the more appropriate reaction is that this athlete did not win a medal not that he or she “crashed out”.


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