Govt attempts arm twisting Ten Sports

NEW DELHI: Even as information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is slated to meet prime minister A B Vajpayee this evening on the issue of Indo-Pakistan cricket telecast, the government this afternoon issued veiled threats to Dubai-based Ten Sports exhorting it "to rise above commercial considerations."

"We understand that there are commercial considerations involved, but for an event of this magnitude and importance, (Indian) public interest should ALSO be kept above everything. Private broadcasters should rise above commercial considerations," India's information and broadcasting ministry secretary Pawan Chopra told journalists on the sidelines of unveiling of a reference handbook for the forthcoming general elections.

Though it may be termed posturing on the part of the government, Chopra pointed out that the government is still trying its best to "resolve" the cricket issue. For a better effect, he said, "Keeping the long term interest of the private players, they should relent. After all, they have to continue doing business here (in India)."

Chopra said that had the Convergence Communications Bill (pending a Parliament okay) been enacted into a law,clauses in it would have taken care of such turn of events where terrestrial rights to DD would have become mandatory.

The issue of cricket telecast is threatening to blow into a political issue in the run up to the general elections as Ten Sports, the global telecast rights holder for all cricket matches to be played under the aegis of the Pakistan Cricket Board, till date has refused to bow under pressure from Doordarshan to share the terrestrial feeds of the matches with it. Being the host nation, Pakistan's state-controlled broadcaster PTV will have the terrestrial telecast rights in Pakistan. All India Radio has managed to buy the broadcast rights for the matches from Ten.

The issue has come to a head with cable operators --- not backed by some big multi-system operators ---yesterday making it clear that they would be unable to show the cricket matches on Ten Sports as the channel is asking for a massive hike in connectivity, which would result in a huge amount of money as outflow.

Asked by whether the government could recommend to the President to promulgate an executive order making it mandatory for telecast feeds of events of national importance to be given to the national/public service broadcaster (Doordarshan), Chopra said, "The issue (of Ordinance) is not in my hand."

Asked what the government would do if the matter doesn't get resolved, Chopra said, "Wait and watch."

Meanwhile, government sources indicated that the Prasad-PM meet may dwell on the cricket issue and, if need be, the issue may be discussed between the two countries at the highest level.

Two days back, India's external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha is understood to have spoken to his Pakistani counterpart on the issue of telecast feeds being made to available to DD also. The effect of this on the Pakistani side is still not known.

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