November 22, 2013

When petulant jingoism is mistaken for news

A Brisbane newspaper's campaign to vilify Stuart Broad has backfired spectacularly, and deservedly, as it wrongly portrays Australian fans as churlish and immature

Stuart Broad aka the Phantom Menace © Courier Mail

"Sometimes, even with the purest of intentions, we make things worse when we try to make them better". -- from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

This week, Brisbane's home-town newspaper has managed to exceed its own exceptionally low benchmark by doing exactly the opposite. Even with the most childishly puerile intentions, they have managed to turn Stuart Broad into a less-hated figure than he was before the Test started.

It all started with an editorial edict that sounded laughable but was meant seriously. They decided, in a prolonged fit of misguided jingoism, to refrain from mentioning Stuart Broad's name (or publish photographs of him) in their coverage of the Ashes Test at the Gabba. He was only to be referred to as "the England medium-pacer" or similar.

Imagine that. Here we are, hosting an international event of some significance, proudly trying to portray our fair city as a mature and grown-up destination, and the local tabloid (they would prefer newspaper but if the cap fits…) comes up with the bright idea to not refer to an opposition player by his name. We've got thousands of Brits in town enjoying our hospitality, spending their money, adding to our enjoyment of this event, and this is what we give them? Some childish, immature, petulant display of misplaced patriotism?

What was Stuart Broad's alleged crime? He didn't walk when he nicked one to first slip via the keeper in a Test match against Australia a few months ago. And for that heinous fault, this paper wants to nominate him as public enemy No. 1. Does that not extend to Aleem Dar then? After all, it was his mistake that triggered the incident. Dear, oh dear, oh dear… and this was a decision taken by grown adults in a professional capacity?

Without going back over familiar territory, the fact that Broad is still positioned as a villain is laughable in itself. So he didn't walk when he nicked one? Neither did Brad Haddin in that very same Test (having admitted that he nicked it). One was a thick edge, the other was a faint one. Both edges, neither player walked. To have one player vilified to this ridiculous extent is like saying it's okay to steal $5 from a child but not $20 from an old lady.

Perhaps I do this tabloid a disservice. Perhaps they are merely just reflecting the intelligence of their readers. Perhaps they are merely giving the Brisbane public what they think they want. But I've spoken to a number of people and I could not find one person who thought this stunt contributed anything to the long-awaited atmosphere of the Gabba Test. Most of them expressed feelings ranging from acute embarrassment to bewilderment that this sort of editorial policy actually made it past the "Hey guys, how about this for a joke to make us look like spoilt kids" stage.

It's almost like they have forgotten the role of a genuine newspaper. They seem to have confused news with propaganda or promotion. We buy the newspaper to get the news - just give us the scores, give us an expert opinion and leave the reader to decide who to support. This particular publication has a long history of turning sporting coverage into a cheap "supporter-fest" that insults the intelligence of the mature reader. The odd tongue-in-cheek piece is all well and good, but the local rag refusing to name the bowler who took five wickets beggars belief. Anyone who looks through the historical records won't be able to find out who took those five wickets?

Darren Lehmann may have poured a bit of oil on the fire with his controversial comments, but even allowing for his subsequent apology, Boof was always seen as a bit of a larrikin. This paper, in what appears to be a tactical error, clearly tried to freeze Broad out by thinking that not mentioning his name might create a cone of silence around him. So much for that. Six wickets and second top score will do nicely, thank you, Mr Broad.

In a poor England performance thus far, Broad has elevated his game to the point where most fair-minded Aussies are now becoming admirers of his tenacity and talent. They may not necessarily like him but they admire him nonetheless. This campaign to not mention him by name has probably contributed to spurring Broad into bowling superbly and batting bravely, achieving the opposite of its poorly conceived intent. Genuine cricket fans, patriotic Aussies though they may be, have found new respect for a man they used to love to hate. We're a harsh but fair mob over here - happy to dish out stick, but when respect is earned, we give it generously. There is no room for churlishness in our minds. Just in our reading material, apparently.

These editors may well be congratulating themselves, now that Australia are bossing this game. They may feel vindicated. After all, in their minds, England's collapse had nothing to do with some brilliant Australian bowling. That mid-afternoon collapse was purely down to the England players feeling isolated because the local rag fired up the natives - nothing to do with Mitchell Johnson's pace and bounce or Michael Clarke's tactical acumen.

At least those of us living in Brisbane have learned to live with low expectations when it comes to this publication. When you expect the worst and continue to be vindicated, you soon look to other sources for authentic and intelligent analysis. It's often hard to differentiate between what is meant to be serious and what is a joke. Their humour and turn of phrase is childish without the charm of being child-like.

It reminds me of another classic line from the aforementioned Shantaram: "You are so shallow that the best thing you can offer is a single entendre."

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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