| India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rahul Dravid during the recent ODI series against the West Indies when Doordarshan was given feed deferred by seven minutes
New Delhi, Feb. 3: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam asked the Centre to “clarify” certain doubts he had about the broadcast feed-sharing ordinance before he signed it last night, government sources said.
Kalam asked information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi whether the ordinance — which forces private channels with hard-won TV rights to share live sports feed with Doordarshan — served a “public cause”, and if it did, to what extent.
The President also wanted to know what kind of deliberations took place “at the top” before the law was cleared by the Union cabinet, and if such a rush was necessary three weeks before Parliament was to meet and a bill could be tabled.
His last question was whether the money DD earns by showing cricket could cross-subsidise other sports, such as archery and kabbadi.
Rashtrapati Bhavan sources confirmed that Kalam had asked the minister to meet him. “Generally, not always of course, the President meets the concerned minister before signing an ordinance,” an official said.
Government sources said Das Munshi told Kalam the Centre couldn’t have banked on moving a bill.
A bill would most probably go to a standing committee, and the delay would rob viewers without a cable connection of the chance to watch the India-Sri Lanka series starting February 8 and the March-April World Cup.
The minister reportedly said Prasar Bharati could not itself bid for the rights. It did not “function like a corporate entity” and could not be involved in “auctioneering” when 80 per cent of its funds came from the government. The Comptroller and Auditor General would then have its knife into the government.
Das Munshi also said the revenue-sharing formula contained in the ordinance — which leaves DD with 25 per cent of its ad revenues after handing 75 per cent to the rights owner — would cross-subsidise the “neglected” sports.
The minister said that after the commissions were paid to the ad suppliers and DD’s establishment costs met, Prasar would still be left with about 18 per cent of the revenue. This would subsidise the telecast of sports like kabbadi, hockey, volleyball and archery.
The President reportedly said this was the most “people-friendly thing” the ordinance had done.
The minister said that in Britain and Australia, sport telecast rights had, by law, to be offered first to public broadcasters. Only if they refused could the private players move in.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to have wondered earlier why the I&B ministry could not accept Nimbus’s condition of signalled encryption. Das Munshi’s point was that encryption would mean the transmission could not be interrupted while the match was on.
Since the shared feed would be broadcast on DD I, India’s only terrestrial channel, this would mean news of national and global importance may be held up (a terrestrial broadcast is a non-satellite, non-DTH transmission that can be accessed through a simple antenna).
Das Munshi is understood to have told the Prime Minister that if, for instance, Parliament had to convey a message nationally and to India’s neighbours, there was no way DD I could be used during a match if the channel was “subject to encryption”. The whole purpose of being a national broadcaster would be defeated, he reportedly argued.
A committee that includes members of the Prasar Bharati and the Board of Control for Cricket in India is looking into the issue of encryption. As a parallel measure, Prasar has been asked to see if DD Sports could be made a terrestrial channel so that DD I could be spared.