What if Tiger was an Indian?
Here is a scenario. Sachin Tendulkar drives his car at a relatively slow speed, into a tree. His wife, who is nearby because the accident takes place right outside their house, breaks the car window with a cricket bat and rescues him. Sachin is taken to hospital where he is treated for minor injuries and allowed to go home.
How would the Indian media treat this issue?
Here’s my theory on what would happen. When news of the accident first emerges, it will be flashed on all TV channels. Then, reporters will go to the hospital to figure out how badly Sachin is injured and whether his cricketing prospects will be affected. When it is clear that he is in no danger and that the injuries are of a minor nature, the media will leave him alone.
Suppose now that a set of rumours swirled around the crash. Suppose somebody gossiped that Sachin was having an affair, that he had fought with his wife, that she may have hit him during that row and that, therefore, the minor injuries he was treated for were actually inflicted before the accident.
My guess is that one or two channels might conceivably carry the story. But that the media as a whole would ignore the gossip. Those channels that did run the speculative stories would be roundly criticized. Some MP would get up in Parliament and talk about the sensationalism that had now taken over television. The I&B minister would assure the house that her ministry would conduct a thorough enquiry into this kind of cheap and intrusive reporting.
Websites like this one would be full of comments. People would tell us how the media had crossed all limits. We would be attacked for trivializing the news. We would be told that we had fallen prey to the cult of celebrity journalism at the cost of the real problems that needed to be covered.
At some stage, some blogger would say that we needed to learn from the example of the West. Look at the BBC! Look at CNN! Would they ever stoop so low?
Okay, that’s one hypothetical scenario.
Now, let’s turn to a real one. Re-read the first paragraph of this column and think not of Sachin Tendulkar and cricket bats but of Tiger Woods and golf clubs. And if you haven’t already worked it out, you will know the point I am making.
For the last few days, the Tiger Woods accident has received saturation coverage on all media outlets in the West. CNN gave the story considerable space. So did the BBC. Many channels played a recording of a 911 call made by Tiger Woods’s neighbour in which he reported the accident. Newspapers have front-paged the story in England and in America.
We have been told who Woods was having an affair with – according to the media, the woman in question is a party planner who admits to knowing Woods but is unwilling to say more. She has been hounded and stalked by the media to the extent that she is now taking refuge in a hotel.
The police have been trying to interview Tiger Woods to find out exactly what happened. Had his wife actually hit him before the accident occurred? You could take the line that even if the couple had a domestic spat which resulted in minor injuries, neither wants to file a complaint so there is no reason for the police to get involved. But obviously, that’s not the way it works in America where policemen enjoy dealing with the media and releasing tapes of 911 calls.
I make no value judgements about the way in which the Tiger Woods case has been covered by the Western media. Perhaps it is entirely legitimate to turn a domestic spat into an international issue. Perhaps the issue of whether or not Woods was unfaithful to his wife is worthy of so much media attention.
My concern is with India. As should now be obvious, this is not the way we do things here. Are we right to follow our own path? Or should we adopt a Western approach.
My view is that we are better off doing things our own way.
But there is a second question. Why are Indians so determined to run down our own media? Why do we waste so much time and energy attacking television channels and newspapers for coverage of celebrity stories or of relatively insignificant events? Why do we pretend that this would never happen with the BBC, CNN, etc.?
As the Balloon Boy incident shows us, Western TV channels can be obsessed with the trivial. And the Tiger Woods saga demonstrates that when it comes to celebrity journalism, we are actually far more restrained than the West.
It’s time for all those self-righteous bloggers to re-think some of their reference points. We may well do things badly. But then, so do the great TV channels of the West that are held up as shining examples to us.