Government may mandate sharing of sports telecast rights

NEW DELHI: It's not just terrestrial feed of sporting events that pubcaster Doordarshan is angling for. It wants rights for its DTH service too. And, a section of the government is ready to play ball.

Private sports broadcasters are in for some serious trouble if the government okays a legislation mandating sharing of telecast of sporting events of national importance with pubcaster Doordarshan on a compulsory basis.

“For the purpose of ensuring the widest availability of viewing in India (of sporting events)… on a free-to-air basis, broadcasters having distribution/broadcast rights for India of such events, shall be obliged to offer the terrestrial and DTH broadcast rights to Prasar Bharati,” a note prepared by the information and broadcasting ministry states.

Of course, in an effort to seem fair to the industry players, the note adds that feeds of sporting events of national importance should be made available to Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and All India Radio, on terms and conditions “to be mutually agreed upon.”

This particular part of the proposed legislation is contained in the draft uplink and downlink policy that is now being studied by a group of ministers headed by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The I&B ministry has backed its proposal by asserting that similar dispensation is available in the UK, Australia and Ireland and in the European Union (EU).

“The EU in its 'TV without Frontiers’ directive had asked its member-states to make available suitable provisions in their domestic legislation to ensure that important events are available to the general public on a free to air basis,” the note asserts.

The government has proposed that a list of sporting events of national/public interest will be notified as soon as a Cabinet nod is obtained without waiting for an omnibus legislation being planned.

Interestingly, in its submission to the I&B ministry, Prasar Bharati has said that the bundling of satellite, Internet and terrestrial rights by rights holders (read, private sports broadcasters) is “not a healthy practice” for the pubcaster.

After having listed some reasons given by private broadcasters in getting all the rights of an event, Prasar Bharati goes on to add that whatever may be the reason, “it would be a good idea to pin down the rights holders to prevent them from packaging.”

And, why doesn’t Prasar Bharati bid for rights (cricket rights to be specific) since that is what rolls in the moolah?

Prasar Bharati has justified its stand thus: “Uncertainties in the events finally happening, which is not uncommon, makes the entire exercise speculative with high risks, which is generally not appreciated by the Comptroller and Auditor general of India since it tantamounts to playing with the taxpayers’ money.”

Further, it has been pointed out that no public broadcaster in the world has bid for such rights sold overseas by any cricket board.

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