Now that the 2018 World Cup has concluded without any major controversy that the international media would have been salivating about, the victory of France in the finals has been turned into a paean for multi-culturalism, the homogenising property of immigration, etc. etc. Our own media-buffoon, Rajdeep Sardesai, lost no time in reminding Indians about the lack of Dalits in the Indian cricket team.
That the media can go to great and absurd lengths in the pursuit of circulation numbers or TRPs to boost the bottom line, is best illustrated by The Times of London, in what is now known as the Zinedine Zidane moment of madness. Twelve years later, let us recap the incident.
The billions of viewers who saw the incident “live” could not believe that an internationally renowned and respected player, probably the greatest footballer of his generation, and a contender for the title of the greatest ever, would go out from the scene in such ignominy. There were hardly minutes to go before the final whistle and the prospect of a penalty shoot-out looked unavoidable. Yet why would a seasoned and experienced campaigner like Zidane lose his head in a moment of madness and do something that would certainly mean an immediate expulsion for him and possible defeat for his team? That moment of madness not only deprived him of a farewell befitting a king, but also robbed his country of a possible second World Cup.
The provocation provided by Marco Materazzi must have been so extreme that a normally cool and collected Zidane forgot everything for that moment and committed the cardinal error of butting his tormentor in the chest in full public view. Zidane must have known that his act would invite immediate retribution and, of course, the referee had no other choice but to send him off. France had to play the rest of the match with only ten players and when the time came for the penalty shoot-out, their captain and the most experienced player could not participate in the same. Italy won the shoot-out 5-3, and France lost the FIFA cup. Almost like Herschelle Gibbs dropping Steve Waugh in a World Cup Cricket Match which South Africa looked all set to win!
It was obvious to almost all the viewers that Materazzi must have said something extremely vicious to draw such a reaction from Zidane. We had made our own guesses, and although I did suspect that Materazzi must have made a racial comment, we felt that the matter had been laid to rest with the conclusion of the match. The matter should have been buried the moment Zidane accepted that he had behaved aberrant and refused to divulge what Materazzi had said. That the French captain thought it best to leave the stage without any excuses shows how larger than life he really is. But obviously, he had not reckoned to what lengths the media could go in search of a juicy story.
That it is a “respected and non-tabloid” newspaper like the Times of London that engaged the services of lip-readers and interpreters to read the lips of Materazzi, shows how the media contrives to keep the fires of a controversy burning. For them it is best if the story develops into a race riot resulting in a few bomb-blasts, shootings, lynchings, and other acts of mayhem so that they can keep the pot boiling and the sheets rolling off the presses. Screaming TV anchors raise the decibel levels to pitches that can burst one’s eardrums. Matters that have only momentary significance are escalated into major controversies, taken out of the hands of the principal characters, and then completely blown out of proportion. Vested interests take over and a whole new spin is put on the story. The media thrives in such situations. When the fires go beyond control, the same media writes pompous and lofty editorials advising all and sundry on how the matter should have been handled.
In the quest for higher circulation and profits the media has forgotten that one of its responsibilities is to promote peace and harmony, and to refrain from publishing any news that could be a potential threat to public peace. Not only had The Times forgotten it, but it had gone out of its way to do the reverse. This dangerous trend cannot be controlled by legislation; and censorship is definitely not the answer. The media has to define its own role in more responsible terms, and exercise self-restraint. The pursuit of profits alone is a sure recipe for disaster for all nations.
Zinedine Zidane paid for his moment of madness, but he has come out of the entire sordid episode as a true hero. By awarding him the Golden Ball FIFA honoured itself. The entire Italian team and especially Marco Materazzi should have made a public apology to the greatest footballer of those times. Materazzi made nonsense of the oath that all the teams were taking before each match about racial equality. If FIFA and other international sports bodies are serious about the ceremony of oaths then it is incumbent upon them to ensure that all the members respect it. It must also restrain the media from investigating matters that have been resolved on the ground and evolve a code of conduct for the press and the electronic media.