Lack of media scrutiny downfall of International League
02 December 2018 - Written by Robert Burgin
You may laugh at the concept of objective media.
After all, we’ve become conditioned to hidden biases at every level of our lives, from the highest offices in politics to the masquerade existence we project on social media.
You may also think journalists are good-for-nothing, truth-bending sensationalists who deserve every barb fired in their direction.
But we have a real problem with the current explosion of interest in international rugby league.
There is limited professionalism and independence among the members of the fourth estate who are: a) willing, b) capable, and c) available to cover the international game as it justly deserves.
You’ve probably heard the ‘fourth estate’ bandied around as a term for journalists before. It sounds quite chic.
I’d wager, however, there are at least a handful of readers who are using the term without understanding its intended context.
At the risk of being patronising, but being explanatory to everyone, the ‘fourth estate’ has two historic interpretations.
The original context is that media was the fourth party, an intermediary which balanced the interests and viewpoints of the clergy, the nobility and the commoners.
A more contemporary interpretation comes from the concept that four pillars underpin true democracy – judiciary, executive, legislature and media.
It’s this second interpretation that is most applicable to a perceived and critical void in rugby league right now.
Without media applying unabated, informed, unbiased scrutiny to international rugby league, we are letting one of the four pillars rot, and any concept of a democratic institution should be abandoned.
Don’t read this wrong. It is undeniably fantastic the sport has exploded in the past two years beyond its largely domesticated, Anglicised confines.
Yet, this growth has occurred at a time when the media landscape presents several challenging environments:
- Firstly, many full-time league reporters are openly and proudly ignorant to international rugby league. They’ve said as much, live to air. If it isn’t NRL, they don’t care and most likely don’t know.
- A swathe of former journalists who were stand-out torch-bearers for independent international rugby league coverage – think your Steve Mascords, Brad Walters, Phil Caplans, Joanna Lesters – now work for the controlling bodies of the game, either directly or in a roundabout manner. This is largely a delayed consequence of staff cuts and quality compromises in traditional media, a revolution beyond anybody’s control.
- Many emerging international rugby league journalists are personally invested in one nation, hemisphere or faction, which gives them outstanding first-hand knowledge, but key blindspots when it comes time to enforcing parity and scrutiny on those close to them.
- Those aspiring home-based scribes who do have bona fide independence are generally lacking in essential areas of journalism training, like media law, ethics, fact-checking, objective prose, accurate quotation and grammar. Perhaps more important than any of these factors though, they lack financial incentives from their coverage to follow tricky assignments to their rightful end or to prioritise complex stories over other competing commitments in their lives.
The end result of all the above?
We’re left with a mish-mash of coverage that is actually pleasing on one basic level, but on another level, never quite hits the mark, effects meaningful change in the hierarchy or presentation of the sport, or fails to come about in a timely, accurate, well-presented manner.
The less evil consequence of this is that, as fans, we are not entertained and informed as we should be.
The second, more evil result, is that the international game lacks the rigour and accuracy afforded to other global sports (and indeed the NRL and Super League), which devalues its entire image and premise of being ‘elite’.
Thirdly, and most heinous of all though, is that the administrators and players on the international stage rarely experience the type of scrutiny that will take them to the next level of professionalism and integrity.
If we want the international game to be better perceived and better funded, we need journalists uncovering the truth when a marquee player is dumped by his nation without explanation – whether that’s for Australia, Tonga or the Cameroon.
If the Rugby League International Federation thinks it is completely acceptable to have a coach of a nation also acting as the chief arbitrator of a tournament he is competing in, it should be called to question.
If players think they can go and get drunk two days before a vital match and waste tens of thousands of dollars raised by sponsors and volunteers on their preparation, they need a wake-up call.
If salaries are awarded unchecked, committees are formed unquestioned and teams are selected without critiques – what hope do we have of a serious product emerging that will pass the sniff test?
We can bemoan missed opportunities after they happen, but a robust ‘fourth estate’ is one of the few weapons available to convince us anything will ever happen as a result.
Disclaimer: The author (who also wrote this disclaimer), is involved directly with several nations in Latin American Rugby League. He of course belongs to the third group of individuals identified above, who is too cowardly, hypocritical and disincentivised to lay bare all the facts that are known to him. It’s likely you’ll read a handful of other articles from people in exactly the same position this week.