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Vivid: Fourth umpire – Trial by media

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Vivid: Fourth umpire – Trial by media

The readers were getting a trifle bored with the usual menu of politician-related scams. The only escapade was the sports news. Cricket as an evening game has exponentially increased viewership and soared TRP ratings. The name of the game is money. It smelt good…till the rat race smelt of a rat. Watching TV chewing cookie? Breaking News spews bookie.

The cops have taken over as the third umpire. Using their draconian coercive powers, acting on mysterious ‘information’, they have gone on a spree of physically confining cricket players; basking in the limelight with new-found glory in their saintly assignment. Gifts and girlfriends, videos and phone calls need to be urgently interpreted as coloured criminals.

As if acting on cue, the media joined the queue. It found for itself the new role of the ‘fourth umpire’. The fourth estate joined the fray with gusto. Scandal sells and sells well. Ever since the arrest of Rajasthan Royals players S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, Ajit Chandalia and Amit Singh, fresh new names are cropping up every day. Good excuse to pry into their lives. The primordial human urge. Repertoire of reportage. Trial by media.

Give the dog a bad name and hang him. One of the dramatis personae, who has not yet been physically confined, invoked his fundamental right of freedom of speech to speak out. He is the BCCI President, Narayanswamy Srinivasan, who held a press conference in Kolkata on the day of IPL final.

He asserted that he was not going to resign. That his son-in-law was arrested is no cause. He said his son-in-law would defend himself in accordance with the law. He blamed the screaming headlines. The media was calling the shots. The media has already accused him of being ‘defiant’.

Some excerpts:
On Sharad Pawar’s NCP asking for his resignation…
I don’t have to respond to that. No BCCI member has asked for my resignation. Secondly, the NCP is not a member of the BCCI. I don’t think I need to respond to that. I’ve responded by saying I’ve no intention to resign.

Gurunath Meiyappan’s role in the Chennai Super Kings (CSK)…
He did not have any role at all. He never visited the office of the CSK. He has been travelling with the team. He’s enthusiastic. It’s fine. But what his role was and whether it bent any rules. I’ve already spoken about that in the statement. We have appointed a commission which will determine this aspect also. The commission will deal with it. I don't want to say anything about it. You asked me something and I replied. That’s all.

On Gurunath often found sitting in the CSK dugout…
I’ve nothing to say. I am not going to sit and explain what his role was. India Cements has already issued a statement on what his role was and what was not. Again, I repeat, let the commission decide. I’ve distanced myself. I’ll not be a part of the deliberations and the decision. It's not necessary for me to go further on this.

On Gurunath’s accreditation as Team Owner…
To get into the ground, you’ve to be either an owner or part of the management. He was later accreditated and I got him as part of the management team. All details will be discussed by the commission. I am not going to sit here, justify and reply to this...I’m very very clear...My job is with the BCCI. I have performed well and have done nothing wrong. If somebody else, a relative, has done anything, let law take its course. Let the BCCI independently go into this.

Whether the probe would be thorough, given that he is in the president’s chair…
I've clearly stated that an inquiry commission will go into all this…I’ve also stated that the rules are broad...They give a number of options to the BCCI. Let this inquiry be completed. The BCCI will be fair, that’s all I can say. You cannot presume that the people in the Board cannot act fairly and broadly.

On Clause 7.2 of ICC Code of Ethics for directors, which debars a family member's involvement in betting…
You are looking at ICC rules...But I’ve to see it myself. I’ve not done anything wrong. We will see and examine it as you have brought it to my attention. It’s also for the ICC to look into.

The ones who have been critical of him
It’s the media. It was as if a trial by media for me to say in a lighter vein. All the newspapers and TV channels were discussing about my resignation. May be others as well...I don’t think I’ve to name them. The cricketing community knows who they are. But they are not in the Board. I’m not at all anti-media. I’m a reasonably private person; but in this case, the attention and opinion that is solicited from the type of the people, leaves a lot to be desired. People should understand...I don't have to say anything more.

Srinivasan, of course, had his moments at the media conference. Firstly, Srinavasan took a swipe at Sharad Pawar, a predecessor of his, by saying his party, the NCP, wasn’t a member of the BCCI and so he wouldn’t react to their call for resigning. That done, Srinivasan called Lalit Modi a ‘fugutive’. Not that Srinivasan spared the media, letting us know that he was not impressed with what he described as a “trial by media”.

The witch hunt verges on the farcical. Aniruddha Bahal suggested on TV that franchisees should be punished for the alleged transgressions of contracted players. Unsourced speculation is being ascribed as ‘investigative journalism’, spiced with dark hints of ‘benami’ or anonymous holdings in principal franchises. The media message between the lines is opaque. The lack of transparency in IPL dealings is the grouse. Apparently.

Public memory is very short. Remember Azharuddin? It was 13 years ago. The former Indian cricket captain Azharuddin and all-rounders Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar were not prosecuted by the CBI for match-fixing. There was no law and there is no law now against the purported crime. That moment of time CBI’s legal advisor and former Supreme Court Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee determined that the so-called evidence about money being paid by bookies to two cricketers underperforming was inadequate for prosecution for criminal conspiracy or cheating.

The then Law Officers, too, doubted invoking the prevention of corruption act. Attorney General GE Vahanavati has opined that the constituent assembly did not envisage enactment of legislation to deal with “crime and sports”. While considering prosecution under public gambling act, the former SC Judge had said the cases were barred under limitation as a long period had elapsed and that “the punishment provided for the offence is lenient and is not at all commensurate with the magnitude of the crime”.

Although the former Attorney General Soli J Srabjee and former solicitor General Harish Salvey were of the opinion that the centre should refrain for the time being because it was the primary responsibility of state governments to legislate on sports being mentioned under List II of the Constitution, the Indian government, however, is mulling legislation for a standalone law to deal with crime and sport, according to Minister Kapil Sibal, a lawyer himself.

“But I do not want to move without the opinion of the AG,” he said. “I am of the considered opinion that such practices need to be dealt with in a holistic and comprehensive manner. I, therefore, feel it would be appropriate that instead of amending the IPC, a fresh legislation to deal with the problem effectively is required,” Sibal added, recalling what Vahanvati had told him.

Till then, the media must remember the legal doctrine audi alterem partem – hear the other side and no one should be condemned unheard. Is the media listening?

Annurag Batra is the Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of exchange4media Group

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