Maldives appeals to ABU for Fifa World Cup broadcast on FTA TV

MUMBAI: The Government of the small island nation of the Maldives has called on the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) to help it gain access to the Fifa World Cup 2006.

The country’s only free-to-air television station, TV Maldives, is being asked to pay more than $600,000 to broadcast a limited number of games.

The minister of Information and Arts Mohamed Nasheed mentioned this at the opening ceremony of the ABU’s 80th Administrative Council meeting held in the Maldives this week.

Situated in the Indian Ocean south of Sri Lanka, Maldives has a population of less than 300,000. The minister said that the local cable operator had been given the broadcast rights to all 64 games, but they had only 25,000 subscribers.

Most of the population on the 20 atolls which made up the island nation would therefore not be able to see the World Cup unless it was broadcast on free-to-air television.

The country was one of those badly affected by the 2004 tsunami and is still recovering from the economic hardships brought on by the catastrophe. Some of the islands were completely destroyed by the tsunami.

The minister suggested that the holder of the broadcast rights was taking advantage of the Maldivians’ love of football. “Charging a small public broadcasting organisation such as ours whose only interest is to show its nationals their life-blood game is like taking away the means of our life and charging an exorbitant amount to return those means.

“We cannot be victimised by this and we do not want to accept such manipulative deals,” the minister added.

Nasheed said that the satellite operator which had acquired the broadcast rights from Fifa was asking TV Maldives to pay “a tsunami amount of money”.

“$600,000 is equivalent to nearly 7.7 million rufiyaa. Divide that by 300,000 people, it comes to 25.7 rufiyaa per person. This is an enormous amount.

“And if we understand correctly, there are richer and bigger countries that would pay only US$40,000 to watch all the 64 games,” the minister said.

Nasheed has appealed to all members of the ABU to support its cause to obtain the Fifa World Cup 2006 rights “at a bearable cost that is commensurate with our nation, its population and its capacities.”

ABU secretary-general David Astley said that the price being asked of TV Maldives was a 3,000 per cent increase on what the broadcaster paid for the same rights in 2002.

“It is outrageous that the rights holder should be asking for an increase of this magnitude at a time that this small island nation is recovering from the devastation of the tsunami. The amount being asked is totally out of proportion to what other countries of this size are being asked to pay."

Astley said he had been informed that the Government was drafting ‘listed events’ legislation which would require events like the World Cup to be made available to free-to-air television at a reasonable cost.

“This could have been avoided if the pay-TV provider had been willing to negotiate a fair price with the free-to-air broadcaster. I believe it is a case of the pay-TV operator simply not being aware of the market conditions in the Maldives,” he said.

Astley said that the ABU’s head of sport John Barton would hold discussions with the pay-TV operator concerned and was hopeful that a deal could be reached which would not necessitate the Maldives Government rushing new legislation through parliament.

The administrative council also discussed a number of proposals relating to how the ABU could assist broadcasters in dealing with a possible avian flu pandemic, and plans to hold the third World Electronic Media Forum in Asia in December 2007.

Following the meeting, the councillors visited a village community on a nearby island and also the studio facilities of Voice of Maldives and TV Maldives.

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