DD makes last ditch attempt for Indo-Pak cricket

NEW DELHI: All is fair in love and war, they say. In case of a cricket series between India and Pakistan not only both the emotions are involved, but India's pubcaster Doordarshan invokes the law, trying to whip up public passions.

In a letter to broadcast regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Prasar Bharati Corporation, while seeking its intervention in the matter, has said that a public broadcaster cannot be held to "ransom" by the telecast rights holder over commercial considerations.

"It is our firm view that the rights holders cannot hold us to ransom by not giving access to terrestrial rights merely on commercial considerations," Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma has stated in a letter --- a copy of which is available with --- to Trai chairman Pradip Baijal.

Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body that looks after the affairs of pubcasters DD and All India Radio.

The letter, dated 13 February, 2004, further goes on to add that DD is not looking at getting the terrestrial rights free. "We are prepared to pay a reasonable rights fee to be determined by any Authority or through mutual negotiations based on precedence for such fees in the past when the events are telecast simultaneously on private satellite channels as well as the public broadcaster," it points out.

Trai's Baijal, who met information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last week, could not be contacted today for comments on the letter.

Dubai-based Taj Sports, which manages Ten Sports channel, had bagged last year the TV telecast rights of all cricket matches to be organised under the aegis of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for five years. Later, it also bought the global radio broadcast rights too.

According to figures being bandied around, Ten Sports bought the Pakistan cricket rights for over $ 42.6 million. This was done at a time when even the most optimistic wouldn't have thought that resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan would become a reality. Now, when such a scenario has become a reality with the Indian government too clearing the Pakistan tour, DD wants a share of the windfall such a series can generate.

The letter from Prasar Bharati seeks Trai's "intervention" and tries to justify the demand by stating while Ten Sports' viewership base in India would not exceed 15 million cable and satellite homes, DD's viewership is about 80 million homes.

Pointing out that these figures would "signify deprivation to the public" of the entertainment they would derive from this "huge event happening after 14 years," Sarma has conveyed to Trai that regulations in this regard, favouring the pubcaster to get access to the telecast rights, would not be out of place.

"Indeed such provisions do exist in a few enlightened countries where, even if a private satellite operator obtains the rights to such event, they are under obligation to give the signal to the public broadcaster also," Sarma has pleaded, enumerating instances of such laws in other countries in annexures attached with the letter.

As things stand today, Ten Sports has agreed to give DD only highlight packages of the Tests and one-dayers of the Indo-Pak series, which may be broken up into Test matches being played before the general elections are held in India, while the one-dayers being held after the elections.

Though admitting that it is not an established norm for Prasar Bharati to bid for telecast rights of events outside the country, the letter adds, "However, they (Ten Sports) have consistently denied this opportunity (for the matches to be shown on terrestrial network) on the ground that they would be adversely affected commercially."

Sarma, a seasoned bureaucrat, also does not let go of this chance to take a swipe at various sports bodies in India and abroad. "It is a matter of great dismay that various cricket boards, including ours, sell the rights to agencies who have no access to terrestrial transmission whatsoever, not only in India, but elsewhere too," the letter sarcastically states.

The letter also goes on to underline the fact that various Bills, pending in the Indian Parliament, had envisaged bringing in a law that would make it mandatory for telecast rights holders to share terrestrial rights with the Indian pubcaster(s) of events that are of national importance. This, irrespective of the fact whether such events are held in India or outside India.

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