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Calcutta, Feb. 22: The cricket telecast battle may be in court but a telecast war is very much raging outside.
In a replay of the tussle last year over the South Africa and Australia series, broadcasters have opened informal lines of communication with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to show Pakistan's tour of India beginning later this month.
Doordarshan, which had shown both the South Africa and Australia series, and ESPN-STAR Sports have approached the board. Zee Telefilms, locked in a legal battle with the board, today told Madras High Court that it was prepared to produce and broadcast the feed 'for no money'.
It was not known if the desperation stemmed from the knowledge that competitors were already in touch with the BCCI, but the statement before the court fitted in with Zee's attitude of late, suggesting that it is prepared to bury the hatchet.
The root of the legal wrangle lies in the board first suggesting that Zee had won telecast rights at home for four years starting 2004 and then holding back award of the contract.
With the court case in progress, the South Africa and Australia series faced the same uncertainty that the Pakistan tour is up against now and were handed to DD at the last minute.
This time, the new BCCI president, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, who succeeded Jagmohan Dalmiya, is evoking the spectre seen twice before in recent times.
'The situation is grim since the International Cricket Council (ICC) rules say that a telecast is a must'. TV is essential for the third umpire, and the ICC could refuse to post officials for the series. If the telecast issue is not decided by next week, they might step in,' Mahendra told Reuters.
True as that is ' and intended as the statement might be to convey the impression that the tour itself could be in jeopardy ' it can be revealed that a parallel, unpublicised process is under way to organise telecast. And, as before, DD is the clear favourite because, owned by the government, it is the least controversial and, therefore, acceptable to the court.
Such a situation, of course, assumes that the court will not give its verdict on Zee's petition against the board before the series starts.
Zee told the court that it was willing to telecast the Pakistan series entirely at its own risk and cost, seeking charges only to meet production expenses. It also offered to market the series and deposit the revenues with the court. Zee said it would take only 24 hours to put production facilities in place.
While only Zee has made its offer public, an ESPN STAR spokesperson confirmed the network met BCCI officials recently. 'We met BCCI with proposals like so many other sports bodies we regularly meet around the world, there was nothing beyond that,' the spokesperson said.
S.K. Sarma, the chief of Prasar Bharati which runs DD, said: 'We are discussing the modalities with the BCCI president to bring the matches to television.'
Sources, however, said an offer made by the BCCI to Prasar Bharati was turned down by the broadcaster. The board is believed to have offered the Pakistan series rights ' terrestrial and satellite ' exclusively to DD without either party having to pay anything to each other. But the BCCI would market the telecast and keep the revenues. Prasar Bharati declined the offer and asked for a 20 per cent share of the revenues.