Shoaib-Sania story: Let’s get the quantum right
Everyone and his dogs seem to have an opinion on how the media are covering Sania’s wedding. So here are my two bits.
1. Should we give publicity to lunatics?
Of course not. The most distressing aspect of the controversy has been the time and space afforded to assorted Hindutva nutters who have declared that Sania is now a Pakistani, should be thrown out of our country, should only play for Pakistan etc.
2. Should we focus on Sania’s choice of Shoaib?
Yes. If we work for gossip magazines. Perhaps the readers of gossip magazines care why and when Sania broke up with Sohrab. Perhaps they care when she started going out with Shoiab. And perhaps they have a view on what she could possibly see in him.
For the rest of us however — and the mainstream media, certainly —-these are subjects of little consequence. Sania’s love life is her own business. And so it should remain.
3. Should the mainstream media focus on celebrity weddings?
In an ideal world, no. But, the truth is that the Indian media have been obsessed with celebrity weddings for a long time now. If mainstream news channels can suspend regular programming only to cover Abishekh Bachchan’s wedding then it is a little late in the day to get self-righteous about the coverage accorded to Sania’s wedding.
4. Was it always like this?
No, it was not. Celebrity journalism was not a big deal till about twenty years or so ago. The media (in those days there were only papers) were not so focused on people and their private lives.
But people journalism is a global trend and India is not an exception.
5. Is the Ayesha – Shoaib story a legitimate one?
Yes, it is. It is more legitimate than glamour coverage of the wedding. Once something becomes the subject of a police case and both parties are interrogated by the cops you can hardly blame the media for covering it.
6. Is Ayesha telling the truth?
Probably not. Her story is bizarre. But then I doubt very much if Shoaib is telling the whole truth either. Even his story strains credulity.
The only person who emerges from this sorry saga with any credibility is Sania herself.
7. Should the media have allowed Ayesha to make her allegations?
It is foolish to say that the whole matter should have been left to the courts. We are forever writing about charges before court verdicts are in. Do we not write about Kasab till he is convicted? Do we ignore every case of cheating tilll the verdict is in? That’s silly.
Ayesha produced video footage, photos and a document. Plus there was footage of Shoaib talking about Hyderabad being his wife’s city. Nobody could have ignored this story, with this level of supporting evidence.
8. So, on what grounds can we criticize the media?
There are two major areas.
One: the quantum of coverage. Is this really such an important story that it should be the lead item on the news? Does it deserve so much attention time and space? Is there nothing else happening?
Two: the tone of coverage. The tenor of the coverage has sometimes been breathless and sensationalistic. Too many channels have taken sides openly and have decided that Ayesha is right and that Shoaib is liar. This cannot be justified in any circumstance.
9. Why is the coverage problem? Well, our usual response has been: if you don’t like what you are seeing, then change the channel.
But what do viewers do when the same story is on every channel?
That’s the problem.