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Should DD have been given telecast rights?

March 17, 2004

The Doordarshan-Ten Sports telecast tussle has sparked off a major debate. Here's what two Congress leader and Ten Sports laywer Kapil Sibal, and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Najma Heptullah have to say about the controversy.

Kapil Sibal, lawyer for Ten Sports:

"In matters of this nature, where contractual rights of individuals are involved, state power shouldn't be used to induce breaches of contract. I'm happy, though, that the government, which wanted to come out with an ordinance to do this, stayed its hand finally.

"I think it stayed its hand for two reasons. One, an ordinance would have, in a sense, amounted to legislative action, and to that extent would have been a breach of the electoral code of conduct.

"Two, I think exercising state power in favour of Doordarshan (that's what the whole case is really about) would have sent a signal to foreign investors that the government always acts in favour of a state agency.

"Because, despite all the talk of autonomy, the fact is that Doordarshan is not autonomous. During election time, especially, Doordarshan is really the alter ego of the state.

"The government has technically distanced itself and is allowing Doordarshan to take the position it would have liked it to take -- but I don't think anyone is taken in by this.

"Of course, in the current case of Ten Sports being asked to share its signal with Doordarshan, it is not the government, but the courts that have intervened and have given the order.

"So, in a sense, the government has been saved the embarrassment of having to get Doordarshan the cricket feed by force. This case, of course, has been decided by the Supreme Court now, but if we are a part of the international community, we must understand that while it's all very well to want to serve the interests of the public (by forcing Ten Sports to part with its cricket signals), this can play havoc with the participants who have invested huge monies and have even taken long-term positions.

"The consequences of this can be horrendous: the contracting parties can not only go bankrupt, but this can even discredit the enterprise. After all, those who've bid for the telecast rights of the cricket matches have bid for a period of five years and are paying millions of dollars for these rights.

"So, in order to finance this, they've made arrangements with various people. Once again, we're talking of commitments that have been made. Once you start interfering with this, the whole structure begins to fall like a pack of cards.

"Ten Sports, for instance, had planned to get a certain amount of money from cable subscriptions, but once the signal is available on Doordarshan for free, why should cable operators want to pay it?

"I think courts should be extremely hesitant to pass orders in such cases, especially on a Friday, when there is little time to approach higher benches for redressal.

"I think such strategic denial of justice doesn't speak highly of the judiciary -- when a judgement comes on a Friday and it is procedurally difficult to appeal, it is strategic denial of justice.

"Frankly, if the matter was really in the public interest, the petition should have been filed a long time ago. After all, Doordarshan knew it was not getting the signal a long time ago, and when it tried to contact the Pakistan Cricket Board it was told the rights had been sold to Ten Sports in an open bid. So why should the court come in at this stage?

"And why should it have given an interim order? It should have given a final order. It should have heard the full case -- so what if one or two matches were not seen on Doordarshan -- and then given a verdict.

"Ten Sports has exclusive rights for five years; how can an order be passed to share the signal for one match, or two? Once Ten Sports gives the signals free for one match, why should any cable operator want to buy the signal from it? It knocks the bottom out of any marketing strategy the company may have planned."

As told to Sunil Jain

Najma Heptullah, Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha:

"I appreciate the fact that the Dubai-based subsidiary of Ten Sports is a good channel and is committed to showing quality sports -- whether football, golf, tennis or aquatics -- all over the world. It is channels like this that promote a global spirit in the field of sports -- the most secular and egalitarian of all vocations.

"I congratulate the company for getting the rights to telecast the India-Pakistan cricket series. Because most people thought the matches would never be played, when the Pakistan Cricket Board called for telecast bids, no one bid to air the series with any seriousness.

"Few people factored in the vision of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, the two leaders who created the ground for the matches to be played.

"Indeed, had this not happened, India and Pakistan might not have played in each other's countries for another 14 years, as they did not for 14 years in the past. So Ten Sports bid and got the telecast tender.

"Because Doordarshan does not have the mandate, it could not bid for the telecast. Now, God willing, it will reach a negotiated agreement with Ten Sports so that crores of cricket enthusiasts in the country are not deprived of viewing the match.

"But my point is not about what Doordarshan ought, or ought not to have done. The most important point is that the India-Pakistan series represents much more than a commercial opportunity. This series is not Arsenal playing Manchester United, the US Tennis Open, Wimbledon or a match featuring Tiger Woods.

"I'm not saying these matches are unimportant. But an India-Pakistan match is not just a sporting event. It represents the emotions of crores of viewers on both sides of the border. Its monetary value is so immense that it cannot be quantified.

"Just consider what the matches mean to people. They represent the enormous reservoir of goodwill that Vajpayee and Musharraf have managed to generate. It was with this in mind, that when the team met him, Vajpayee told them: "Sirf match hi nahin, dilon ko jeetna hai."

"Then there is the aspect of pure sport. If Ten Sports is truly committed to sport, it will share rights, the world over, to let cricket enthusiasts see what will be the series of the decade. Where else can you find a Sachin Tendulkar with 12,000 runs to his credit, playing an Inzamam with 9,000-plus runs?

"Tell me which team has better players than the Indian and the Pakistan cricket teams. Indeed, if the two teams got together, they would be the most unbeatable combination of cricketing intelligence and technique the world has ever seen. What Ten Sports is doing is to take into people's drawing rooms, the best of the sporting action in cricket.

"I can understand that Ten Sports is clinging on to its rights of telecast. It must be looking for chances to boost its advertising revenue. But my point is that some things are more important than money.

"Prime Minister Vajpayee, Law Minister Arun Jaitely and a whole lot of others have put their weight behind ensuring this series actually takes place.

"There is much more about these matches than just winning or losing. In many ways, Ten Sports is helping record history. How much is this worth? I really don't know.

For the first time, Indian and Pakistani flags are being carried by the people of both nations, regardless of which country they belong to.

"There are Indians who have watched the poetry of Yusuf Yohanna's batting and there are Pakistanis who have watched Ashish Nehra's mesmerising bowling. India and Pakistan are jointly applauding each other. It is applause for cricket, the sport.

"I understand His Highness, the Emir, is coming to have talks with Indians. I am sure that for the Emir, the money he might have earned from the match will not matter but the goodwill Ten Sports will help generate between India and Pakistan will be more valuable than the ad revenues from the match.

"One billion Indians, 150 million Pakistanis and crores of cricketing fans all over the world will sing praises of Ten Sports if it permits the matches to be telecast. This praise cannot be measured in dirhams, dollars or Indian and Pakistan rupees.

As told to Aditi Phadnis

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