Saturday, 28 January 2006

Has media overstepped its bounds?

In the last few weeks in the United Kingdom, the reading public has been treated to a raft of sensational stories, all purporting to be in the interests of the public good.

First, there was the sting involving the England football coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who was invited by a reporter from the “News of the World” tabloid to come to Dubai, on the pretext that the latter was a “sheikh” who was interested in opening a football academy in the emirate, and wanted Eriksson’s advice on managing it. The Swedish coach, thinking this was a legitimate business opportunity for him, went along for the ride.

And boy, what a ride it turned out to be!

The coach was wined and dined by the fake sheikh, during which he was asked “private” questions on various things - from his plans after the World Cup, his thoughts on his players and his views on the English football scene. All along his responses were videotaped and recorded, and were then sensationally “revealed” to the British public in typical tabloid style.

The resulting fallout was toxic.

Eriksson was baited into thinking that the sheikh was interested in buying an existing English club (Aston Villa) and asked if he might be interested in managing it if offered the job after the World Cup was over. Sensing an opportunity in the hypothetical query, he answered positively to the overture, i.e. he would consider it. This was not the end of his woes yet.

When asked what he thought of his team, he remarked that some of them were less hardworking than others, etc. As a final blow, when asked about the state of English football, his reply was that he thought it was rampant with corruption, with managers and agents involved in huge kickbacks and payoffs with players moves and transfers.When all these revelations came out in the papers, the man was crucified. Many called for his head to be on the chopping block, notwithstanding the fact that in five months’ time, the tournament that this whole nation has been waiting for will kick-off in Germany, with Eriksson’s team among the early favorites to come home with the crown.

POLITICS. On the political front, Britain’s third largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, was marooned in a press storm of its own. First its leader Charles Kennedy was forced to resign due to revelations that he was a recovering (yes, recovering!) alcoholic. As if this was not enough, one of the frontrunners to replace him in the party leadership was exposed as being gay and associating with male consorts. Of course, tragedy always strikes in threes because what happened next was that another senior frontrunner was also revealed to be gay, and sadly, also happily married with children.

In both instances, the tabloid media has been instrumental in revealing the salacious details to a news-hungry public. In fact in one case, it went out of its way to create the news, rather than just report it.

All these of course are justified on the bases that it is “in the interest of the public” that these stories are published.

But what public good is conceivably being served here? If anything, Eriksson’s men may feel that much less motivated now, after hearing from third party sources what he has supposedly said about them. And the fact that their coach is now definitely leaving after the World Cup is over may not make him work as hard as he would otherwise have, to win the crown. After all, he may still be bitter after being betrayed by the English press.

(More on this next week)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 28, 2006.

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