The concept of paid news is one of the grim realities of the times we live in. There can be a doubt at times whether what some people are reading is genuine or a paid plug by a sponsor filling up a newspaper's coffers. Sometimes, of course, there's a role reversal. Sometimes, it's the media that has to 'pay' for interviews.
When HT contacted former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq for an interview, one was expecting some Punjabi hospitality from the Lahore-born tweaker. Of course, having now got UK citizenship, there was the stiff upper lip more associated with Brits.
After a short telephone conversation, the 36-year-old veteran of 49 Tests and 169 ODIs redirected one to his manager, assuring the interview would be “set up”.
The expensive call
Saqlain, whose 11-year association with Surrey came to an abrupt end in 2008 after he played in the rebel Indian Cricket League, now lives in Leicester and runs a coaching clinic.
Within minutes of the conversation, there is a call from the manager. The sweet-talking kind, he enquires where one is staying, and how one would travel to Leicester. On being told that it would be by train, he even said he'd provide a station pick-up. Not bad, one felt. Then came the proviso.
“The interview will be set up. I'll come personally to pick you from the station. Oh, and one more thing, it will cost £300,” said the manager, with no perceptible change in the tone. A casual way of asking for what would amount to R25,000.
Stumped, one played it cool and said I would get back to him. A brief mathematical excursion yielded a very disheartening figure — a double of Jameson at the preferred watering hole costs 5 pounds, a double of an aged single malt about the same. Sixty doubles of good whiskey, or 60 minutes with Saqlain? That's a no-contest!
After 30 minutes, there was another call from the manager. One told him that the economics of the interview weren't working out. Like any good salesman, he had a prompt reply. “Inzamam ul-Haq is also here. I can arrange an interaction with him as well, let's call an even £500,” said the man, who one only referred to as Willy Loman.
Indeed, a 1+1 offer is always a good sales pitch. Wait, with Inzamam, him of the bulky frame and starchy nickname, would that become 1+2?
Either way, it wasn't going to work out. One asked for more time to consider the offer. Thirty minutes later, there was another call. This time one didn't even bother picking up. Not one to give up easily, he called a few more times.
I’d love to share the experience further, but oh wait, I'm being asked to leave the press box because of a phone that won’t stop ringing. You get the picture!