Bad-mouthing media is as cheap as it gets

In years gone by, in happier more prosperous times, Cricket South Africa held its annual Awards dinner at a fancy hotel or conference centre in Johannesburg. They were lavish affairs, to be sure. Pretty much everybody who was anybody involved in cricket was there.

The senior administrative teams from the provinces and franchises were invited as were the country’s coaches and players, and not just the high profile ones. The most important people at the events were always those who had contributed most to the organisation’s success, the sponsors.

At the event’s peak there were over 650 people in attendance. They may not have been life or career-shaping nights for Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla or Jacques Kallis, but they certainly were for the amateur and provincial award winners. And for the Schools week winners, the blind cricket winners, the under-19s and so many others.

Even the media were invited, seated on tables 63 and 64 in the back right hand corner of the room, out of harm’s way. The list of award winners was provided to us on an embargoed basis so we could write about them before deadline. There were also interviews with the main winners for follow-up stories the next day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a ‘working dinner’, but we were certainly contributing.

Most important were the sponsors, of which there were many. It was an opportunity for CSA to thank them and for them to rub shoulders with the Proteas, one of which was assigned to each of their tables. After the main course many people wandered amongst the tables and sought out old acquaintances or familiar faces. It was an opportunity to meet up with people you rarely saw face-to-face and, in some cases, clear the air.

About ten days ago CSA’s acting CEO, Kugandrie Govender, held a virtual meeting with the contracted Proteas, including those at the IPL. She assured them that the organisation was financially healthy and that the board members “…aren’t going anywhere.” A week later they had all resigned.

One of the players asked her why the picture painted by the media was very different to hers. Later, Govender was asked what her response had been:

“I made it clear [to the players] that CSA drastically improved its financial control and that led to a change in our media strategy. The changes include that gifts and unnecessary trips for the media weren’t approved anymore,” she said.

Cutting twenty journalists from an annual dinner – many of whom were resident in Johannesburg anyway and did not incur transport of accommodation costs. Hard to see how that’s contributed to the claimed R250 million which CSA has said it has cut from its operating budget, but that isn’t the point.

With one, ill-considered and sweeping statement, the woman in charge of the day-to-day business of running the national game has rubbished the credentials of every cricket writer in the country – because every one of them has criticised the shoddy lack of administrative leadership. Her implication that the criticism has been motivated by the lack of an invitation to the Awards Dinner is so feeble it is not even insulting.

I have been thinking hard about the ‘gifts’ to which she refers. A few polo shirts over the years and the traditional tie for each tour. Cricket writers stopped wearing ties in the 1960s. Perhaps she was referring to lunches on match days as ‘gifts’. I’m happy to take my own sandwiches if it helps to stem the flood of expenses. Or perhaps she can implement a fee for meals eaten by the people she really needs to promote the game.

Govender was speaking to the people who are responsible for generating 95% of the revenue generated by the business she is in charge of. No wonder she was keen to reassure them. The problem is, they aren’t ignorant sportsmen who believe what they are told because the words come from an executive.

The players are more informed than ever and they stand to lose more than anyone if the game shrinks as much as their own organisation, the SA Cricketers Association, predicts it will. They cannot be fobbed off with a tawdry and flippant effort to blame the messengers of truth.

If Govender seriously had ambitions of making her role permanent, she would be concentrating on replacing the sponsors who have already used the exit door and on being honest about the challenges the organisation faces. The problem with journalists is that they can see through selective honesty.

Jokes about ‘gifts’ and ‘freebies’ for media have been around for decades. In 30 years I have never, ever encountered a genuine journalist whose principles have been compromised by the receipt of a shirt or tie – all of which are supplied anyway by a sponsor and bear its logo.

It is going to take time to turn the game around, but the snide and snarky attitudes will have to stop. If the new administration does its job with integrity and for the good of the game above themselves, there will be no need to worry about the media. Definitely no need to gratuitously bad-mouth them.

Photo by Antonio Castellano and David Travis on Unsplash

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