Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ehsan Mani to meet Priyaranjan Das Munshi

Besides the private sports broadcasters in India, the cricket boards around the world are unhappy at the Indian Government's decision to enforce terrestrial broadcasting of cricket through Doordarshan. These regulations were notified and they come into effect from December 2nd, from the 1st Day of the 1st cricket Test between India and Sri Lanka.

However unlike the private Indian broadcasters, the world cricket bodies can only complain. They have no locus standi in fighting it out. However the Indian companies have a strong legal platform to fight Indian Government in the courts.

Ehsan Mani, President of ICC is supposed to meet Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Das Munshi.

However, I am afraid Das Munshi is probably not even aware of the issues concerned. When the new guidelines came up, the minister responsible was Jayapal Reddy. Immediately after the regulations were brought on, Jayapal Reddy was pushed to some insignificant ministry.

The rumours are that the real person behind this move is the Minister for Telecommunications and IT - Dayanidhi Maran. Let me reiterate that these are only rumours. The reason attributed is that Maran has strong interests in a Television network - Sun TV - run by his brother in south India. The only strong competition for this network in terms of grabbing advertising monies in South India is sports broadcasters. By ensuring that sports broadcasts are made available on free-to-air television like Doordarshan, whose ability to grab advertisement money is rather limited, Sun TV will have access to more advertisement income.

Secondly, Sun TV group also has distribution interests - through SCV, a cable distribution company. ESPN, Star, Zee, Sony etc. constantly keep fighting with cable distribution companies on the back of strong cricket rights they hold - in forcing the distributor to disclose honest numbers on number of households they distribute to, and also increasing the per house fee. By taking the cricket feed to Doordarshan - which is free-to-air - SCV and other cable companies benefit immediately.

There may not be any truth behind these rumours. Nevertheless I am worried about the conflict of interests. The cabinet must be above suspicion.

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