Media Matters #3: Enter the Excel jockey

There is only one teeny problem with TimesNow anchor Navika Kumar: She talks so fast, so incessantly, and at such high decibels that her mind never manages to catch up and make itself heard.

Late last week, Navika Kumar hosted a debate on Vande Mataram, which Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath wants to mandate as India’s answer to the Tebbit Test. On the same day in Gorakhpur, the UP constituency Adityanath has represented in the Lok Sabha since 1998, 31 children died in the span of 24 hours of what early reports said is a combination of encephalitis and the cutting off of the hospital’s oxygen supply for non-payment of bills.

As the Vande Mataram debate gathered sound and fury in the TimesNow studio, one of the invited guests sought to question BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on the Gorakhpur tragedy. “This is an issue that is very sensitive,” Patra said in exasperation after the nth attempt to bring up the tragedy, “but for God’s sake, we are debating about an issue that is also equally sensitive, that is, Vande Mataram.”

At this point, Navika Kumar cut in:

“We understand that today is a sad day because 30 children have lost their lives in Gorakhpur in a hospital because of certain conditions of lack of oxygen supply, we understand that. Let us not beat our chests in a manner as if something like this has never happened in Akhilesh Yadav’s time. When the debate is on Vande Mataram you are bringing up this issue because you are running away from the real issue.”

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The scariest thing you will see today

Yeah, that is a classic click bait headline, but for once I mean just that.

Here it is, a Vice documentary on Charlottesville.

Since last night, I’ve watched this half a dozen times, trying to unpack the many layers — and yet there is more to be seen at every subsequent viewing. But, broadly, this is what I see:

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Media matters: #1

In a wide-ranging interview to Scroll, politician/entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrasekhar touched on his various media investments and their respective slants:

“I’m an investor and editors of our channel run the channel,” Chandrasekhar said. “I’ve been told my Kerala channel, Asianet News, has a leftist point of view. That’s the journalists of that product. The Kannada channel has a different point of view, an anti-establishment point of view, whoever the establishment is. Republic has a different point of view, and people have accused it of being pro-BJP, mouthpiece of the BJP. That is for the editor to explain. It’s not for the shareholder to explain.”

He then goes way out on a fragile limb when he argues that the only measure of media credibility is the size of the audience:

“For us, it’s about looking at building brands that are credible,” he said. “Credible is important from the size of the audience, and that the audience believes in it. That is the only measure of it. What is the other measure? I don’t want to slip into this easy trap of having three people decide what is credible…Large audience will only come if they believe in that brand. There is no way you can be a compromised brand, and a brand lacking credibility, and at the same time have a large number of people following you.”

You could, as I do, disagree with almost every word of that argument. #1. To watch something and to believe in it are not the same. #2. The role of the editor is not to “decide what is credible”, it never was — that bit is Chandrasekhar setting up a convenient strawman to smack down. Her role is to decide what, among the thousands of items of news that pour in from sources, over the wires, from correspondents in the field, from governmental and private agencies, merits the time of the viewer/reader.

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Let the ladies come out and play

Give us more Tests, says Raj. The women’s team, since debuting on the international stage in October 1976 against the West Indies, has played 36 Tests till date; its last Test was on November 16, 2014 against the South African women (which, by the way, India won by an innings and 34 runs). Raj herself, arguably among the best players in the world, made her Test debut in January 2002 and, over the next 14 years, has played a grand total of ten Tests.

The likes of Raj and Kaur have consistently claimed for their peers the opportunity to play, to showcase their skills and to improve in the heat of competition at the domestic and international levels. The men have a Future Tours Program, a schedule, to tell them who they are playing this time next year; the women however have neither a program, nor a schedule, nor any sense of what the future holds.

A clip from my latest column for Scroll, which starts with Narendra Modi’s Mann ki Baat and ends with my own kaam ki baat.

PS: Reminds me, I now write a fortnightly cricket/sports column for Scroll. Past columns are here.

The zen of Mithali Raj

In a Women’s World Cup final marked by more ‘clutch moments’ and ‘turning points’ than you can count, there was for me one moment that defined this Indian team and its leader.

The last wicket had fallen, the cup was England’s and Heather Knight’s mates were celebrating. Off in one corner of the field, the Indian team milled around, with drooping heads and tear-blind eyes. And in the thick of it all, captain Mithali Raj walked from player to player, giving each a hug, a few words of solace; on occasion, her hand reached up to wipe away the tears.

As she walked over to the next player, you saw the eyes of the player she had just left following her, fixed on her as you would on the light of a candle in a dark and dismal world. In her actions was a sign of how much she felt for her players, girls who she had inspired when they were mere toddlers, and shepherded into the big leagues and, on this day, onto the biggest stage the game has to offer. And in their eyes you saw just what Raj meant to every single one of them. Defeat was their lot, but they were finding it bearable, just, because Raj was there with them.

And then, with the same imperturbable calm, Raj walked over to the presentation area for her post match press conference. With her smile in place, she spoke of how well the opposition had fought and how they had deserved to win, she spoke of her disappointment at the result but immediately leavened it with fulsome praise of her mates, calling them the lodestars for the next generation of Indian talent. With no change of expression, she said she hoped to be able to play for a year or two more, but added that this was her last World Cup.

If at any time she felt the hurt, if at any time the most prolific batsman in the women’s game felt the pain of being unable to add the ultimate accolade to her impressive collection of laurels, it never showed. On this day, on this stage, she was careful to never reveal, by word or gesture, her own disappointment. Her wards, she must have figured, were feeling bad enough without being reminded of her own angst.

And thus, with that zen-like calm, she exited a stage she had adorned for 18 years. And in the manner of her exit she taught one last lesson: that sport, when you come right down to it, is not just about skill and fitness; finally, and at its best, it is about grace, about being able to “treat those two impostors just the same”. And thus, in the manner of her leaving, she left Indian cricket, and the game itself, just that little bit richer. And poorer.

Jarrod Kimber, arguably the freshest, feistiest voice in cricket writing today, sums up what Raj has accomplished, and against what odds, in this lovely example of writing to tight deadline.

Mithali Raj ran for 18 years, all around the world, for her women, for her India, and she ended up a foot short. Some say she should have dived for the crease, thrown herself, but she had already thrown every part of her into cricket all her life.

Here, read.

The perfect ten, times three

(This column was first published on Scroll, Monday June 6)

There is something about the French.

The unforgiving clay of Court Phillipe Chatrier has broken hearts and melted minds, revealed invisible weaknesses and brutally exposed carefully-hidden fragilities. It is the kryptonite of tennis, denuding demigods of their strength.

“It was the worst loss of my life, a devastating defeat: sometimes it still keeps me up nights.”

John McEnroe, not given to admitting fallibility, wrote that in his autobiography Serious, some 18 years after his loss, in his only final appearance at Stade Roland Garros, to the then Grand Slam virgin Ivan Lendl.

“It’s even tough for me to do commentary at the French,” McEnroe wrote. He had stormed into that final in the midst of a dream year, flattening Jimmy Connors for his 42nd straight win on the bounce. And yet.

“I’ll often have one or two days where I literally feel sick to my stomach at being there and thinking about that match,” he wrote. “Thinking of what I threw away, and how different my life would’ve been if I’d won.”

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This game needs adult supervision

It beggars belief that the BCCI chose to publicly air stump mike recordings to make a particular case – one that, if deemed serious enough, should have landed in the court of the ICC-appointed match referee, not used to deliberately fuel flames that are already burning bright.

I thought that the Lodha Commission and the Supreme Court had between them had ensured that the BCCI would be run by adults?

Not that I have any time for Steve Smith’s “disappointment” either. He was not merely stood there when the Ravi Jadeja-Matt Wade incident happened – he was a willing, even active, participant throughout.

The issue is not about the nature of the words exchanged, or even the fact that any words were exchanged at all. No one is naïve enough to imagine that it was all one-way traffic, all the time, that the Indians have not chattered at opposing players. The problem lies elsewhere.

I was calling the play over by over at the time, for FirstPost.com. And while I had no means of knowing what was being said, I made the point that Wade was repeatedly, deliberately, talking at Jadeja as the batsman was settling into his stance.

That is not sledging or mental disintegration or any of the other euphemisms that have entered the lexicon to provide loutish behavior a linguistic fig-leaf. The egregiousness of the incident lies in the fact that it was a deliberate, and repeated, contravention of the rules governing cricket. Smith, maybe, needs a refresher, so here it is:

Law 42, governing fair and unfair play, begins thus:

The responsibility lies with the captains for ensuring that play is conducted within the spirit and traditions of the game, as described in The Preamble – The Spirit of Cricket, as well as within the laws.

Item #4 is headlined ‘Deliberate Attempt To Distract The Striker’, and it says:

It is unfair for any fielder deliberately to attempt to distract the striker while he is preparing to receive or receiving a delivery.

Which part of that sentence does the Australian captain need explained to him in words of one syllable and accompanying hand-gestures?

The clip provides additional clarity to what anyone who was watching saw in real time: During that passage of play, the chatter was constant, high-decibel, and it occurred even as Jadeja was preparing to receive. On one occasion, he had pulled away and walked off to square leg to regain his equanimity, and as he walked back he got more of the same.

To repeat, Smith was not only part of it, he and his mates continued the practice even after Jadeja had once taken his frustration to the umpire.

Smith is “disappointed”? Frankly, so am I. He is a brilliant batsman – it is, in fact, a travesty that Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Virat Kohli are being held up as the triumvirate of modern batting when Smith has shaded them all. And as captain, ignoring his fairly ordinary game awareness for the moment, he has managed to hold a young team together through a very tough transitory period and is well on track to restoring it to a measure, at least, of its former pomp.

But these brain fades of his, and his seeming ignorance of cricket’s governing laws, are now becoming a marked blemish. If he saw the clip the BCCI aired, he has every right to be “disappointed” – not that it was aired, but that under the pressure of a rescue operation mounted by Jadeja and Saha, he so far forgot his role and responsibilities and became a willing party to some extremely sharp practice.

All of which is also why this was an issue the BCCI and team management should have taken to the match referee. It seems, though, that we live in different times, where the first and often last recourse is social media – not that it does anyone any good.

In passing – the BCCI did the reveal because it owns the feed and therefore it could. But has it considered for a moment that this is a two-edged blade? And that sooner or later, in an age where we celebrate this new-look, aggressive, take-no-prisoners Indian side, we can and likely will find ourselves on the business end of that sword?

No point asking, at the time, “Where were you in 1984 when the Sikh riots happened?” or some other equally asinine form of whataboutery.