New Delhi: Talks between Prasar Bharati and Nimbus have failed and the tussle between the two over the telecast of the ongoing India-West Indies One-Day series has now reached the courts.
Nimbus has approached the Delhi High Court against Prasar Bharati’s demand to telecast the matches on Doordarshan. The Government on its part has termed Nimbus’s attitude unpatriotic.
And caught in the middle of the fight is the viewer.
On Sunday over 55 million non-cable TV and GTH homes missed the action from the first One-Day series, as Nimbus’ Neo Sports was not available.
The big question that was brought up by Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN’s Face The Nation was: Should Doordarshan have the right to telecast every cricket match?
On the panel of experts to voice their opinions was Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and CEO, Nimbus Sport, Digvijay Singh
What does patriotism have to do with commercial transaction?
It looks unlikely that cricket fans will get to see Team India play against the West Indies in Cuttack on Wednesday. Talks between the right holders, Nimbus and Prasar Bharati have broken down over the nature of the signal. Nimbus has gone to the Delhi High Court, in an attempt they say, to protect their rights.
The Information and Broadcasting Minister had said that the conditions imposed by the private broadcaster Nimbus were unpatriotic. What does patriotism have to do with a commercial transaction actually?
According to Dasmunsi, “Cricket as a product has been built over the years, even before the invention of television in Asia, by radio commentary. It became a household property only through radio in the days when money was not important. And secondly in critical days it was Doordarshan. So, whenever a sports group sells its property, should they not carefully speak on whether the property belongs to them or not?”
Does this mean that Dooordarshan has a monopoly on cricket rights in this age of free market?
To this, Dasmunsi said, “The terrestrial right belongs to Prasar Bharati. It does not belong to any other private group. When a terrestrial right is sold in a tender notice, those who buy do so knowing full well that only Prasar Bharati can exploit this right. Nimbus is unpatriotic as they are trying to put conditions before Prasar Bharti.
So it is a matter of public interest and is the Government willing to make a deal with Nimbus that has paid Rs 1,000 crore for cricket rights over a period of time?
“It is the BCCI who agreed that they shall stand by the Government’s guidelines and that is in the Government’s record. Nimbus put two conditions in front of Prasar Bharti, one being that the signal should be encrypted and all other Prasar Bharti channels - including DD1 – should remain blank as long as a cricket match is being broadcast. Prasar Bharti channels are public service obligations and cannot agree to such terms and conditions just to accommodate Nimbus,” said Dasmunsi.
However, Nimbus CEO, Digvijay Singh contested this saying that Nimbus is not imposing unreasonable conditions on the Government and Doordarshan. He said that there was no reason why Nimbus should not share its rights.
“Patriotism comes from obeying the laws of the land. Nimbus acquired the rights legally. It has licensed the rights legally and it is operating legally. We have in fact offered the rights to Doordarshan,” said Singh.
What’s the discussion over encryption?
“The guidelines that are being referred to under which Doordarshan wants us to provide the rights to them are actually not law. So there is no question of being patriotic or unpatriotic with respect to the guidelines. We have in any case offered the right to Doordarshan on the basis of a contract, which is a pure commercial contract. Ninety eight per cent of terms of the commercial contract are agreed. We have worked with Doordarshan so many times in the past. The fundamental issue now is violation of people’s rights,” said Singh.
When Doordarshan broadcasts terrestrially, it broadcasts through TV towers. There are 14, 000 TV towers all over the country.
“The signal is sent up to the satellite from the match venue. It is received at Doordarshan’s central production centre. Advertisements are inserted there,” explained Singh.
“Doordarshan then sends the signal up to another satellite which is their own, which sends the signal to the kendras from where the signal is then sent to viewers by means of terrestrial transmission. The transportation path is the problem. Doordarshan sends the signal unscrambled and visible to other countries. Every neighbouring country can have access to these signals,” Singh added.
Is cricket in India a public interest or commercial deal?
“No sports including cricket can be run without sufficient support of industry and marketing efforts. I do not undermine resource generation strength of the very disciplined body so far as marketing is concerned. The people have made cricket alive. I would like to highlight two things where India is concerned; one is that India contributes the majority on the market money of the entire world’s cricket. Secondly, cricket has become very important to the Indian spectators including the rural and urban,” said Dasmunsi .
However, when told that Sky news broadcasts cricket in England and Channel 9 broadcasts cricket in Australia – both private channels and that the Government doesn’t have a monopoly anymore, Dasmunsi said, “The rights belong to Prasar Bharti as of now whether you like it or not.”
However, Singh contradicted this saying, “The terrestrial right doesn’t belong to Prasar Bharti, not under the law. Prasar Bharti actually acquires and buys terrestrial rights terrestrial rights to other acquired programmes in many cases before broadcasting them. Why would it do this if it owns the terrestrial rights? “
What becomes of the average viewer?
So what happens to the average cricket viewer? If they are not able to watch the cricket match on Wednesday, is the Government going to take responsibility?
To this Dasmunsi said that he was helpless. “As a minister, it is not my job to to negotiate with Nimbus. Prasar Bharati is an autonomous institution by vote and act. I have to see how the policy is implemented,” he said.
So will he resign – as he said that he might - if the issue is not solved?
“If the condition forces me to do it then I prefer to resign as a public man then to compromise my own guidelines that has been mandated to me by the Cabinet,” said Dasmunsi.
So is Dasmunsi trying to say that private broadcasters cannot serve public interest?
“No that is not what I am saying. They definitely can serve public interest but not like Prasar Bharati,” he said.
Finally, will the viewers get to see the match on Wednesday if they don’t subscribe to Neo Sports?
“It is in Doordarshan’s hands and I am surprised that Doordarshan is not showing it. We have told Doordarshan to scramble the signal and take it. If they can’t scramble then let it be delayed. If it still believes that it belongs to it anyways, subject to our right of legal redress,” said Singh.
Final SMS poll results: Should Doordarshan have the right to telecast every cricket match?
Yes- 61 per cent
No- 39 per cent