Not trial by media, Mr Srinivasan

BY Madabhushi Sridhar| IN Media Practice | 27/05/2013
The media boosted IPL's popularity with lavish coverage, giving BCCI a legitimacy which it turned out not to deserve.
MADABHUSHI SRIDHAR says it has every right to demand accountability now.

N Srinivasan has strangely found it convenient to call the coverage of alleged spot-fixing in the IPL ‘trial by media’ and deemed it ‘not fair’. Yet after the arrest of his son-in-law he has missed no opportunity to call press conferences and express, among other things, his defiant resistance to demands for his ouster.

If his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is on trial by police and judiciary along with three cricketers, media’s reporting of that cannot be termed as trial by media. Nor can he ignore the contribution of media to the IPL, which devotes several broadsheets and broadcasts every day. In fact, the craze generated and consolidated by the media has an indirect facilitating role in the game getting converted into a popular commercial gambling enterprise.  It is because of media that Indian cricket has a big national market with the largest broadcast audience among cricket-playing nations. It is reported by KPMG-FICCI that IPL-V had a total viewership of 122 million in India, much higher than the number of eyeballs generated by the Olympic Games or the soccer World Cup in the country.

For reasons unknown, the media so far has not questioned the monopoly of BCCI over cricket. The BCCI’s average annual turnover between 2007-08 and 2009-10 was fixed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) at Rs 870 crore. It is significant to note that this fair trade regulator has imposed a penalty of six percent of annual turnover, coming to Rs 52 crore, on BCCI for abusing its dominant position in the game and denying market access to its competitors. This is a pittance for BCCI. This unquestioned monopoly with unimaginable riches, where politicians and bureaucrats deem it a privilege to gain honorary positions and a few VVIP passes to watch the games, made BCCI and its chairmen very powerful, and many are now saying dictatorial.

Is it Indian team?

Thus it is wrong to talk of trial by media, when media, in fact, abdicated its responsibility of questioning the imperiousness and monopolistic nature of BCCI causing immense damage to growth of sports in India.  What is the Indianness of this BCCI team which is loved by billions of Indians? Is BCCI a public institution or a private business monopoly which does not allow entry of other cricketing societies or encourage growth of other sports? Is BCCI not responsible for its worst cricket administration because of which money laundering and betting are flourishing within and out of India?

The media and fifth estate – civil society – did not question the lack of transparency in the cricket body. With its riches and power to influence, BCCI could stall application of Right to Information Act to its ‘private’ activities. The BCCI enjoys clout over billions of people and dollars without any public accountability. Airwaves are neither the property of government of the day nor that of media houses during a season. They belong to people, as do sports. Their sports, their airwaves, their money runs the entire show, but the BCCI is not answerable to them! The Ministry of Broadcasting does not regulate it. The Indian (so-called) cricket establishment survives and runs with people’s appreciation, the victory of the team is proudly taken as India’s win, but its administration is left in the hands of people who were either ousted or deserve to be ousted.

If there is anybody who must complain against BCCI and Srinivasan, it must be the people and media. Instead Srinivasan has the audacity to complain of trial by media.

A public interest litigation in the Madras High Court sought direction to the Centre to act against the irregularities and illegalities of the BCCI.  Alleging that more than 25 players in the IPL are involved in match-fixing and spot-fixing, the petitioner demanded that the BCCI should desist from using the name ‘Indian cricket team’ for its team. “The Indian cricket team should not be represented by a private registered society, which makes profit only to fill in the pockets of a few individuals. The BCCI has made illegal gains by promoting its private team as the Indian cricket team,” the PIL alleged.

Srinivasan has used another run-of-the-mill quote – that the ‘law will take its own course’ – to avoid the plethora of questions about his continuance and functioning as BCCI chief. He said that he was sure that his son-in-law Gurunath would defend himself adequately but that is not a reason for him to step down.  Srinivasan told NDTV, "I am sorry. I cannot be bulldozed and I will not allow the press or the others to railroad me. I have done nothing wrong.” He tried to assure the media that he would be objective and there would be no discrimination. He made serious attempts to communicate that he was objective: "The fact is the probe will be carried out. Whatever steps have to be taken, will be taken objectively and fairly, that you need not be worried about. You can be sure that BCCI will act with the same alacrity. You need not be concerned about that."

Srinivasan’s assurance is inherently subjective and unfair in these circumstances. Statement of franchise owner of Pune Warriors, Subrata Roy about his bias and scathing revelations about his son-in-law are ample proof of his interests conflicting with his duties.

Besides reporting statements of those who are critical of the functioning of the BCCI chief, the media is duty-bound to question his continuance in that office based on conflict of interests. Whether spot-fixing or the role of his son-in-law and his dealings with him are established or not, Srinivasan cannot continue as Chairman of BCCI because of glaring conflict of interest; he owns the Chennai Super Kings team, and yet is supposed to regulate the commerce of cricket. In his dual capacity as the Vice President of India Cements, major holder of shares in the franchise which owns CSK team and BCCI chief, he has ample power and opportunity to favour or harm a franchise.

Which law will take its course?

It is a lacuna in the law that such significant positions are left unregulated. Law cannot take its course rightly because there is no strong law which criminalises and prohibits the dishonest dealings in sports. Neither there is any law to regulate this private cricket monopoly thriving on public appreciation. Union Minister Kapil Sibal regretted that a specific law was not made so far to tackle the cheating in cricket and promised to do it. If Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja could regain respectability after the murky episode of match-fixing, it is because of lack of law and loopholes, among several other reasons. Many as yet unknown cricket criminals could emerge perhaps because no deterrent action was taken against their predecessors. 

Indian cricket legend Bishan Singh Bedi, who spun the ball but not money, rightly said, “Yes, we see huge crowds in stadia, but I am convinced only a few come to see the cricket. For the rest, it’s just a chance to be part of the din and perhaps be caught by television cameras, even if only for a split second…Indian media is sadly running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.”

Media should have conducted the trial of BCCI much earlier.

Madabhushi Sridhar is Professor and Coordinator, Center for Media Law & Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.


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