Media Matters

1. I mention the media of India and Britain here because these are the only two countries I am in a position to compare: for our sakes, I hope there are other countries with similar eccentricities.
2. I’m not sure of the rules regarding the combinations of words and proper nouns which can and cannot be used while the Olympics are on. Considering the minuscule readership of this blog, I write in the comfortable knowledge that I won’t be found out if I break any rules.

Not denigrating the athletes, but in magnitude, depth and variety, the Commonwealth Games cannot quite hold a candle to the Olympics. However, there is a striking similarity in the stories that haunted Delhi in 2010 and which now surround the London Games.

Taking into account the most recent events in London, it is evident that criticism of the preparations is not going down very well with the media. Mitt Romney’s comments have led the Guardian to declare that he has jeopardised his election chances, supported by several readers (see comments) up in arms against an American republican’s denunciation of their Games. This certainly has me confused- all over the site, there are various articles peppered with comments on how the Games are just a corporate charade, a massive waste of money etc. Presumably, it is wrong and unfashionable for a foreign politician to voice the exact same concerns that the residents of a country have.

Two years ago, Indian preparations for the CWG came in for a lot of flak. Unaccustomed to our propensity to finish things at the very last minute, the foreign media couldn’t tell what was going on- to be fair, neither could we. Transparency isn’t out biggest virtue. The hygiene standards and the safety of the venue after the bridge collapsed during the run-up to the Games were rightly scrutinised by visitors, and the criticism stung India. However, despite all the fears and the corruption, the Games went on without a hitch and were successful. I like to believe that at some level, the unfavourable reports abroad must have helped. Incompetence was tolerated within the country, but the expectations from an international sporting event were very different.

We are quick to take offence at any foreign criticism, the latest example being the Time magazine cover calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh an underachiever. Things don’t seem set to change in the near future, but in this case, instead of admitting that there are concerns with the manner in which the government is functioning, large sections of the Indian media have chosen to get defensive. Outrage and anger prevail, while the deeper issues are ignored. Blinded by irrationality at some point, we lose our capacity to acknowledge the flaws in the system, and instead indulge in an absurd defence of correctly detected problems. Criticism is rarely considered constructive.

The UK seems to be going through a similar phase with the Olympics- quite self-deprecating at times, but very sensitive to any criticism from outside. It doesn’t help matters that the Games are dangerously politicised; sport mingles with politics and several incidents have been adding up to prove this unpleasant fact. The Olympics have barely begun, but there have already been a few upsets. The South Korean flag was incorrectly displayed on screens instead of the North Korean one, the Taiwanese flag has been replaced by that of Chinese Taipei, and Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou has been pulled out of the team for a racist tweet. Ajay Maken, India’s sports minister, jumped into the fray earlier when he tweeted that some athletes considered the Delhi CWG Games Village better than the one for the London Olympics. And now, Romney has added to the existing confusion with his own politically incorrect comments.

So when does it become unacceptable to raise questions over the preparedness of a venue for a global event? Why should Romney’s comments- which, in all fairness, seem quite justified- make him a scapegoat? Is a politician, by virtue of not being a participant, disqualified from expressing his opinions without having to placate his hosts? The media shows a tendency to blow things out of proportion- to say that Romney’s faux pas will have a direct effect on his election bid is stretching it a bit. Where, for all other purposes, Americans are written off as a not-very-astute bunch of zealous patriots, they are now being associated with a keen interest in the Olympics and British politics. That various media channels themselves have strong political affiliations only serves to worsen the situation.

With the Olympics officially beginning tomorrow, it will be good to see sportspersons on the front pages for a fortnight- if we can get the politics and the corporate capers out of the picture, that is.


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