News and views on motorsports

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Racing Media

"They're Sheep. And sheep get slaughtered" -- Gordon Gekko

Excellent post found on Checkpoint10, one of the most spirited I've found on the racing blogsphere in a while. Checkpoint10 was responding to an article on GrandPrix.com, that takes potshots at "the ever-excitable Formula 1 Internet media - most of whom have never set foot in a Formula 1 paddock and make it up as they go along by putting their own spin on other people's stories." Now to be fair GrandPrix.com makes no specific mention as to who they mean by this. It could be (and probably) are fan sites for sure but internet media also include folks like PlanetF1 who by their own admission never get to step into the paddock having never been granted passes by the FIA (or is it the FOM?). However, Checkpoint10 do make some excellent points including the fact that "Grandprix.com's theory is that we should be excited enough by the dry news that is fed to us via the proper channels. No scandals, no intrigue, no speculation until the official press conference." I'd like to add to Checkpoint10's great article with a few points of my own about GrandPrix.com and the racing media in general.

First, I wonder who are GrandPrix referring to by "the ever-excitable Formula 1 internet media" who have "never set foot in a Formula 1 paddock." For it seemed to me that it was no less an esteemed and highly respected print publication than Autosport who got really excited about the prospect of a settlement between CVC and the manufacturers, led by the nose by the highly influential, highly political good friend of Max and Bernie E, Flavio Briatore. The fact that some of the internet media did get excited about this was no thanks to Autosport who as some of you may know gets priority over all other media in the Formula 1 paddock, thanks to their own close association with Max and Bernie stretching many many years. For my part, I never believed there was going to be any agreement between CVC and the GPMA until the 2008 rules have been agreed by all. (Sometimes, I think I read too much Racefax).

Secondly, I believe GrandPrix.com itself is part of the internet media and itself is no stranger to flaky reporting. In this article, fellow internet media publication and paddock pass holder Pitpass lambasts GrandPrix for some highly speculative reporting. Pitpass was referring to an article written by GrandPrix.com that it claims attempts to make much over the whole MF1 for sale issue and the presence of a prospective buyer near its motorhome. Perhaps GrandPrix.com is merely taking out its frustrations then on the "internet media." GrandPrix.com is a good website I must say but sometimes is given to moments of idiocy like all the rest of the media. Witness this recent article on GrandPrix entitled "Alpha, Beta, Gamma." The fact that there is no Gamma Prema or Gamma Topco registered at Companies House does not mean anything and certainly does not indicate CVC's state of mind which according to GrandPrix.com "would seem to suggest that CVC is not currently planning any more acquisitions for its investment in Formula 1." Thats just bullshit and seems to me that GrandPrix are simply plucking things out of the air. Thats fine for blogs but certainly for a publication that purports to be better than the rest of the internet media, its incredibly spurious reporting.

Third is the assertion by GrandPrix.com that most of the internet media have never set foot in a Formula 1 paddock. Fair enough but there are a few interesting points about this. As far as getting close to the action, I have it on good authority that in the media center, hacks are watching the exact same feed that we all receive on the telly and base their race reports on these. And as far as timing information is concerned you merely have to log on to Formula1.com's live timing and you'll get the same data as any of the hacks. So much for getting close to the action. But this is a small issue.

Those with their stylish media passes get closer to the teams, the bosses and the drivers, not to mention of course, Max and Bernie. But this is a double edged sword as all passes are controlled by the FIA. This comes at a price. You start losing your soul because of it.

Its rather like the motoring press in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the media is subject to strict government controls that govern content. Step out of line from the "official" government point of view and you're liable to lose your publication license and at worse be sent to prison under draconian colonial (i.e. British, thanks a lot Your Majesty!) enacted laws that have survived to this day. But automotive industry being what it is, the motoring media are unlikely to have much to say about politics. After all, they write about cars and bikes.

However, the motoring media in Malaysia are very much under the influence of the car manufacturers. Journalists I know would love to write as freely as they wish and call a bad car a lemon. Doing so however, would put them at severe risk of losing that car maker's advertising revenue and not being invited to press launches or being given cars for road tests, all considered vital by senior editors for the financial health of their rags. Thats why all the car magazines in Malaysia adopt that ubiquitous tone of arse licking flattery even when writing about that pointless god awful excuse for an automobile, the Proton Chancellor. Editors of local editions of foreign magazines are no better. Oops did I mention Evo's Donald Cheah? Sorry.

Anyway, back to the paddock media. That media pass places them under similar but albeit lesser restrictions. But they all have to be very careful about not biting the hand that feeds them, be it the FIA or the teams themselves. Anger the former and they'll quickly have their passes revoked. Irritate the latter and step out of line of the press releases and they'll find it hard to get close to the team members for that all important exclusive. Autosport and sister rag F1Racing, guilty as charged.

And it seems to me, that the paddock press acts sometimes as some sort of damage control spin doctoring for the FIA, under the auspices of "for the good of the sport," a phrase GrandPrix.com loves to use. Yes, I do realise that bad news damages the image of the sport but this a financial concern, to protect sponsors and to keep attracting new ones. The other concern is of course driving away the so called "casual viewers" (and readers of publications like GrandPrix.com) of the sport.

But here I was thinking that the media was there to report the truth. Take this article by GrandPrix.com about the continuing debate on the rubber band Ferrari wings. The article concludes that "hopefully all of this jiggery-pokery will remain in the shadows as F1 can do without technical scandals this year." Scandals last year's BAR and Indianapolis and 2003's tyre rule change post Hungary? But what about the truth? Do we as fans not deserve to know the real story? Must it always be about projecting a good image? All those episodes I mentioned reeked of controversy, cover up and a complete lack of transparency and proper governance by the FIA. But how many publications out there dared mention it?

Take the BAR fuel tank scandal. I have to admit that I actually bought the "official" story created by the FIA, reaffirmed by their kangaroo court and flogged by the media. After reading Forrest Bond's article on Racefax on that matter, I'm now not so sure. If Mr Bond's allegations are true, then one can only conclude that the FIA downright lied to the public at large, aided and abetted by the paddock media in general and that it, not those poors sods at BAR, were the ones who committed fraud.

I cannot confirm the exact truth in the BAR matter for I have no inside source at the FIA or the teams. I have only my analysis of the general media's statements and that of Forrest Bond. However, I did know someone who was a scrutineer at the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix who swears that the Ferrari barge boards were purely and simply illegal (and this from a Scuderia fan) and yet the FIA chose to let them off the hook on that one. For the sake of a big showdown in Japan no doubt but again, ask yourselves, how did the media react? A small racket for a short while then a quick sweep under the rug. The fans are left with just one version of the real story. That is the one authorised by the FIA. Looking around in forums all over the web, it would seem to me that a large number of fans actually buy into the crap as well.

In my mind, the compliance of the racing media and the ease in which they can be appeased and coerced allow the FIA and the FOM to carry on making apocryphal decisions in perpetuity. I am here to watch racing. More than that, I am here to watch sport refereed in a just, fair manner. If I wanted bullshit then I'll watch WWF Wrestling. The great thing about the "excitable internet media" is that unlike the submissive paddock media, they aren't afraid of raising hard questions. This is something the racing media should be doing but have consistently failed to do so. Publications like GrandPrix.com in fact actually think that sweeping things under the carpet is a "Good Thing."

I do not disagree with everything the racing media sells us. For instance, Pitpass likes to say that hardcore racers like Frank Williams are much preferred to big spending soulless, faceless corporations and I agree. However, I am much more against the FIA's atrocious governance of the sport and their questionable decisions. Because of that, a part of me actually wants The Big Split, however unpalatable that seems. I've always counted myself a die hard fan of grand prix racing especially and motorsport in general. I can live through the periods of McLaren, Williams and Ferrari dominance when others scream for variety. Because thats racing and I love it no matter what. But I simply cannot abide the way the FIA has run the sport and I can't stand the greed of the FOM (insofar as that greed takes away revenues that rightfully belong to the teams). And I simply hate the way the paddock media lets them get away with it time and time and time again, so obviously part of the conspiracy.

I wholeheartedly agree with Checkpoint10 that sometimes, the paddock media expects the rest of us to "be like sheep and accept the word of journalists like Alan Henry and Joe Saward as gospel, passively read the opinions from their more enlightened minds, and get on with our lives." Thats just bloody patronizing and very nearly causes me to use the four letter expletive. But the truth is sometimes, its the paddock media thats sheep, shepherd by the FIA and the rest of the Formula 1 circus.

Oh well, thats the opinion of this member of the "ever excitable internet media" anyway. Do bloggers count as media? I think not but who cares. Anyway, I look forward to Checkpoint10's next installment of "The fictional F1 media."

3 comments:

Spud said...

Excellent summation of what's wrong with F1 at the moment. No-one is willing to rock the boat for fear of the Wrath of Bernie/Max.

Keep up the good work

Don Speekingleesh said...

Quality article. Great read.
It highly amused me when autosport/pitpass were claiming that by being accepted today the teams *had* to race in 2008. Which as Racefax has pointed out is complete rubbish. If they want to leave they will. Nothing Max can do about it.

Checkpoint10 said...

Thanks for doing all that research and analyses to substantiate my extemporaneous and sometimes wild musings. This brilliant article is what I was trying to say on Checkpoint 10, except in an organized and thoughtful manner. Well done.