It didn’t seem like a big deal when Delhi came under severe flak a couple of weeks before the start of the 2010 commonwealth games as every nation, lucky enough to get an opportunity to host a big sporting event, usually draws some criticism in the run-up to the event. One thought it would blow off soon enough. But as the media found new holes in the preparations and its frenzy turned to fury it was realised that the story became murkier by the day. The media seemed to have suddenly dug up a scam that had been conducted undetected for more than half a decade and there in hangs the tale. The sordid tale that is trumpeted as a triumph but is actually a story of miserable failure and callous relegation of duty on the part of the media.
As the Indian media went ballistic in highlighting all that was wrong with the preparation of Commonwealth games, the smug officials claimed to have everything under control. Every hour new stories about the squalid conditions began to be broadcast and printed in papers. We learnt that the Athlete’s Village was unsuitable for human habitation. Media was ecstatic in flashing pictures of dogs and snakes straying into the village to highlight the state of unpreparedness as the Indians began to panic. The outbreak of dengue and other diseases in the Indian capital city seemed to be the favourite topic for the journos.
The officials characteristically brushed aside the concerns of the tribe with mikes and TV cameras (journalists is what they usually refer to themselves as) who with furrowed heads shot the same questions at them ad-nauseam . My point is why did the media wake up to the problem so late? What were they doing for the seven years that India got for the preparation of the games? Was there no journalist- investigative or straight- who was tracking the development story for all these years?
To their credit the hype and hysteria (so typical of Indian media) created by the journos shook the PMO from its slumber. As the world media chipped in, some athletes and countries threatened to pull-out of the event. It was a national crisis. The organisers were bailed out by the Indian government who called in the Indian Army to build a bridge that had collapsed in just three days. The government also requisitioned help from other government departments to get the venues and the village ready to receive the athletes.
The TV guys with their cameras and mikes and the newspapers reporters collectively felt triumphant and all smug in their success of revealing just what a pack of clowns the organisers were. They felt they had done their job by India. And you can’t deny they did. Only it was five years too late. Certainly a case of too much too late, which is perhaps worse than too little too late.
What the organisers did (or didn’t do) was bad but what was worst and most unusual was the fact that the Indian media was quite unaware of the Commonwealth Games till about 10 days before their commencement. Why didn’t they highlight the lapses in organisation and planning; reveal the massive underlying corruption and get the Indian people involved 7,6 or even 5 years ago? From the way they felt about India’s image being tarnished and had debates and discussions a couple of days before the opening of the games, it sure felt like it was an important issue worthy of their attention and coverage every single day from the day India was awarded the Games.
India prides itself on being the biggest democracy and the media definitely has a vital role to play in any democratic country. The Commonwealth Games might end up being called a great success depending on something as arbitrary as the number of gold medals India win but what has come across as one of India’s biggest failures is not just the corruption in our political system (we can fight that), but also the failure of Indian media. Indian media needs to get its priorities right and learn to be more professional in its approach if it wants to play a constructive role in helping India become the world power it dreams of becoming.