Can Pakistan’s ugly media rivalry stay out of the PSL, please!
Pakistan Super League (PSL) is underway. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s initiative to make this league a reality is truly commendable. Young players don’t usually get the chance to showcase their talent in front of the global community as a result of poor local coverage. Hence, PSL will be the ideal opportunity for various budding cricketers to not only display their prowess, but to learn from the experienced coaching staff and prominent foreign players.
PSL is a franchise-based tournament which forms provincial teams and these teams battle against each other over a month’s time. With various companies buying franchises, the highest bid was received by ARY for the Karachi franchise, at $2.6 million per year for a period of 10 years.
The entry of a media group as a buyer awakened the attention of other media groups. The initial coverage provided by ARY to PSL played a key role in prompting other franchises to form affiliations with each other, all in an attempt to become a part of PSL. Channels are aware that Pakistani citizens are passionate about cricket and require extensive coverage; therefore, PSL will be an opportunity for them to improve their ratings and viewership.
After ARY associated itself with Karachi, GEO TV followed suit by entering a sponsorship agreement with Lahore Qalandars, followed by PTV Sports joining hands with Quetta’s franchise, Express News sponsoring Peshawar Zalmi and Dunya News supporting Islamabad United. Channels will air promos of their teams as well as interviews of key players from their franchises.
During the inaugural edition of PSL, what is interesting to note is that six prominent channels are supporting five franchises. Peshawar Zalmi is the only franchise to boast the backing of two channels; Hum TV Network and Express News.
The nature of the media groups supporting PSL are quite diverse, two belong to sports, three from news and current affairs, and the remaining pertains to entertainment.
Various T20 leagues such as the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League (IPL), despite having played in different countries, have never seen the media take such a strong role in any league as it has in PSL.
There is no apparent harm in the media affiliating themselves with a particular franchise, but what’s extremely concerning is the favouritism displayed by these media houses. There is strong rivalry amongst channels in Pakistan. Being news channels, they will not be airing the whole match but instead, I believe, will talk more about the activities of their respective teams as opposed to PSL in its entirety.
A few days ago, various guests on the GEO News show Khabarnaak were wearing the Lahore Qalandars kit and Dunya News aired a special interview of the Islamabad United Captain, Misbahul Haq.
A day before ARY’s logo launch, two senior journalists of GEO, Waheed Khan and Abdul Majid Bhatti spoke critically of ARY’s plan to launch their logo at the National Stadium in Karachi.
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Although some of the points raised by Abdul Majid Bhatti and Waheed Khan were valid, the coincidental timing of their discussion on the eve of Karachi’s logo launch event proved that they were speaking out of rivalry.
Expectedly, on the same show they praised their partner team, Lahore Qalandars, for organising their launch event at The Royal Palm club in Lahore, as opposed to a stadium. It was unfortunate, as this rivalry The News and Jang, publications belonging to GEO Network, did not cover a key event; The ARY logo launch at the National Stadium.
I watch cricket with a lot of interest and I’m left extremely disappointed these days since nobody on PTV Sports speaks of Chris Gayle or Shane Watson.
Similarly, there is no mention of Sir Vivian Richards’ appointment as Mentor of Quetta Gladiators on GEO Sports. ARY, Express News and Dunya News are equally concerned about highlighting their own teams.
The limited coverage deprives expatriates of grasping the real dynamics of PSL. Unlike Pakistan, where we have 100 channels available for a mere Rs 200, people abroad have to pay a certain amount for each channel they wish to acquire, resulting in most people limiting themselves to a mix of six to eight channels. Since this requires people to purchase a variety of shows, they are denied access to all news channels at the same time. For this reason I fear that they will be unable to get an unbiased and holistic view of PSL and the selective coverage will frustrate any genuine sports lover.
Considering the media rivalry that exists in Pakistan, it would have been wise of PCB to ban news channels from buying franchises. Fortunately, the PCB’s role is not over yet. I suggest that PCB should organise a meeting with heads of all the channels and brief them about the requirements regarding coverage and to also make it mandatory for channels to feature all franchises of PSL.
Furthermore, they may be allowed to give more coverage to their own team given that other teams manage to be highlighted as well. PCB should also impose similar guidelines to the media across the country, even those not affiliated with the PSL.
As PSL is bound to continue, I believe PCB should include a law in PSL as a term of reference to bar channels from entering into deals with an individual franchise. Even though PCB was reluctant to construct any rules to pose as hindrances in the formation of PSL, there is reason to fear that this initial relaxation may haunt the future of PSL. There would be no fear of backlash as channels will not withdraw from covering PSL as this is a big opportunity which no channel can afford to miss.
Since PSL is currently taking place, many non-partner channels are airing PSL related news and views because Pakistanis are that passionate about cricket. Of course all channels want to exploit this obsession to their advantage. I sincerely hope something can be done in the future to prevent channels from giving selective coverage.
PSL began on a positive note with the hope it will expose new talent for the national team. I hope the ugly heads of channels’ rivalries remain buried and the positivity surrounding the tournament should continue long after the conclusion of PSL’s inaugural edition.
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