Let's start by congratulating the News of the World for its exclusive on what we've come to call 'spot-fixing'.

I have a lot of reservations about entrapment, whether it's carried out by the 'forces of law and order or by newspapers. But it does seem, on the face of it at least, that this particular exercise satisfied the main criteria for subterfuge 'in the public interest'. Prima facie evidence of serious wrongdoing on a matter of some significance and the probability that the evidence couldn't be collected in any other way.

And it seems that the NotW's journalistic enterprise - if the allegations turn out to be substantiated - will have cast disinfecting sunlight on a festering boil. At the very least, it's prompted a police investigation and motivated the notoriously sluggish ICC to act with something approximating haste to investigate alleged corruption in Pakistani cricket with greater urgency.   

So why do I find it difficult to raise more than one cheer?

First, it was hard to read the original NotW story without sensing a mismatch between the story and the evidence. You'll recall the headline:

"Match-fixer pockets £150k as he rigs England Test at Lord's."

And the opening par:

"The News of the World has smashed a multi-million pound cricket match-fixing ring which RIGGED the current Lord's Test between England and Pakistan."

And later:

"Our shock footage of the players' fixer Mazhar Majeed taking a massive £150,000 cash, and telling us EXACTLY when the no-balls would come, proves the game was RIGGED."

Now, to repeat: in getting the story, the NotW showed admirable journalistic enterprise. But was it actually the story the newspaper claimed it to be?

Was the story really about "match-fixing"? Did it "(prove) the game was rigged".

Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned ... but isn't match fixing and rigging about changing the result of a game? Getting players to throw a match - deliberately lose or produce some other poor result?

This isn't to argue that 'spot-fixing' isn't extremely serious. And, if the allegations are proven, the players should clearly face the most serious penalties. Nor is it to argue that the boasts of the alleged fixer, Mazhar Majeed, didn't point to the possibility of deeper rooted corruption.

But it's worth raising the question of whether the evidence supported what the headline and the copy claimed?

There's a deeper concern, though. The evidence supporting the core allegation - that no-balls could be produced to order - is clearly very strong indeed. And one that is suggestive - though no more than that - of something rotten at the heart of Pakistani cricket.

But is it churlish to point out that these particular no-balls were produced to order to satisfy - persuade - the NotW's "undercover team posing as front men for a Far East gambling cartel"?

In other words: the subterfuge didn't merely discover wrongdoing that was going to happen anyway. It caused it. Or at least that's the way it reads:

"Told you"

Mazhar Majeed is quoted as saying;

"Once you showed your hand, I showed my hand, okay?"

This matters. Journalists are the public's eyes and ears. And sometimes bearing witness or making a discovery on behalf of the public requires subterfuge. But that subterfuge cannot - or shouldn't - extend to creating or causing the very wrongdoing it purports to observe.

Perhaps the wider investigations into Pakistani cricket will yield grim results. And perhaps the NotW story will be seen to have brought nearer the day when fans can once again trust the game. But when - if - that day arrives, it would be a good idea to recall what the NotW entrapment actually showed ... and what it didn't.

Tagged with:


More Posts