Sania, Mania and the Bania
April 4, 2010 1 Comment
A Sania Mirza marrying Shoaib Malik shouldn’t cause any raised eyebrows ; A Tennis star Sania Mirza marrying cricketer Shoaib Malik would just get the paparazzi interested ; But an Indian tennis star Sania Mirza marrying a Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik presents a huge TRP opportunity for the biggest industry of modern india, the media.
Indo-Pak marital alliances though not new have always been contentious for 2 reasons, one because they actually are, given the undercurrent of political issues and secondly because they have been so treated.
It is too tempting to ignore the political undercurrents even if the decision is a deeply personal one and should normally be out of the realm of media speculation. But there is nothing which is normal in these days of media overreach.
Let us look at some basics. Here is a tennis star probably past her prime considering that the ‘ripe old age’ of 23 is normally retirement time for tennis players who has hardly lived up to the reputation. A match against Serena and a career high of 27 is hardly reason to treat her like Steffi Graf. Having said that, she did represent the aspirations of many Indian girls by reaching where she did. But it is no excuse to shower such unwarranted attention over her and a non-issue.
Indian media is now going through a metamorphosis. Along with judiciary, the media represents hope for the people of this nation. After years in wilderness and state control, the media is now fully empowered to question, seek accountability and expose. But for the media many social issues may not have reached the wide audience that they have today and certainly we owe a huge thanks to them.
The success that the media got by championing social causes naturally fuelled a competition between papers, channels and medium to bring news – better, faster and the much abused, exclusive. This rat race among different sections of media has created the undesired side impact of news voyeurism.
It should be nobody’s business including the media as to whom Sania Mirza gets married to. Also the marital status of Shoaib is of no value to the viewer even if the interest is to protect the rights of another person. I say this because all these years when Shoaib was supposedly married, the media had hardly any concern for his alleged first wife.
The undeserving overexposure of the ‘issue’ (?!?) results in unnecessary public polarization of views and unwittingly provides opportunity for Indians to be seen in very poor light. What is the need to focus on where Sania will be settling, whom she will be playing for ? I mean it is her damn choice.
There are many examples of sportsperson choosing to represent another nation ignoring the nation of their birth. The case of Chess players from the erstwhile Soviet Union to South Africans who have represented England and Australia can be quoted as prominent examples.
Has India come to such a pass that our hopes in tennis begin and end with Sania Mirza ? Is India or are Indians so desperate about Sania representing us ? What exactly are we looking for ? Is Sania going to win us the Olympic at London 2012 or is she going to set Wimbledon on fire ?
The best results that one could hope for is a medal in the Commonwealth which is probably secure because most of the top athletes are staying away from CWG 2010.
The desperation about Sania’s choice of country for representation is clearly a creation of the media. This is precisely what the elements across the border wanted with the PTF chairman exhorting Sania to consider playing for Pakistan.
Adding fuel to the fire, the right-wing brigade swung into action denouncing Sania’s decision to marry a Pakistani. Bal Thackeray who otherwise has hardly any love lost for Indian Muslims giving loads of advice for Sania. The right-wing reaction was expected given their fragile relationship with Muslims but the least media could do to drive attention away from this non-event is to avoid any publicizing leave alone over publicizing.
But given the rat race within the media and the urge to bring “exclusive content” to boost TRPs, channels trip over each other to provide as much prime time coverage as they possibly can. Indian media has mastered the art of converting non-events into “breaking news” by sheer force of repetition.
‘Say a lie over a thousand times, it would be true’ is never more accurate than when applied to the media. Just after weeks of hanging with the Modi and SIT, the media was desperate for something to move on and avoid a news void. The media found a golden opportunity to push TRPs further.
The priorities of media have shifted from championing issues to garnering TRPs, market share awards and profits. Corporatization of media has meant that there are now newer races for ‘market capitalization’, ad revenues etc. I am not alleging that media has stopped championing social causes but the focus has to some extent degenerated into money making rather than playing the vital role of fourth estate.
The focus on money and profits meant that where the media cannot find news, they are now in the business of creating news. In the case of Sania, the media has no genuine purpose either in ensuring justice for Ayesha who is allegedly deprived of it or ensuring the protection of ‘India’s interests’ in Sania continuing to represent India.
News anchors who are twittering away seem to endorse the need to stay away from gate crashing into Sania’s private affair but in the comfort of their news rooms, presumably owing to pressures from the news corporation, their resolve just melts away.
Sania has a difficult task on hand given the success rate of glamour marriages especially those across borders. Sania can very much do without the media glare which probably forced her into saying banal things about not making a ‘statement’ with her marriage. If India has to learn managing relationship with Pakistan from Sania Mirza, then God help the country.
Indian media is far ahead of it’s counterpart in Pakistan. We have better technology, better quality, and certainly better objectivity and importantly have a balanced audience. It is a huge insult to the sensibilities of the Indian public to be fed on Sania’s personal whims.
It is time for Indian media to introspect and do a course correction. Media needs to prove that their commercial interests can comfortably co-exist with their responsibilities. Given the pressing issues that face the country and the unique position our country is in to script a better future, the last thing Media needs to create is a mania. They don’t need it even if at core of their heart, the media remains a bania.