Vantage point

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hypocrisy of the Public Sector

You know what really gets my goat about the public sector entities? Not that they're inefficient. Not that they waste taxpayer's money. Not that they infringe on areas best left for private initiative and free market. All these things get my goat too, but what REALLY gets my goat about the public sector is the sheer hypocrisy.

The "public" sector, by its name, as well as its claims, seems to suggest that its purpose is to serve the public. But in reality every public sector entity ends up tormenting the public and serving only a few select people. The Public Sector will make noble claims but never back it up with actions.

One excellent example is the cricket telecast row regarding Doordarshan for the ongoing tri-series in Sri Lanka.

This is the story so far. the tri-series is happening in Sri Lanka. Ten Sports has paid big money to bag the rights to telecast all cricket played in Sri Lanka. Obviously, they would like to broadcast the matches in India over Cable TV exclusively and make money.

In steps Doordarshan. It tries to strike a deal with Ten so that it can broadcast the matches too. It claims that it is doing so in "public interest" because a majority of TV-owning homes in India don't have cable TV and would thus be deprived of watching cricket. Now it's not as if Ten refused the deal. They aid down some terms and conditions, which I sure must have been such that, DD broadcasts the matches, but without making money itself.

After all, if it is "public" sector, its primary job should be to serve the public's interest, right?

But apparently DD would not play ball.

Now first of all, watching cricket is not a fundamental right. If you can't afford to pay for cable TV, you can't watch it.

But even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that watching Indian cricket is somehow a fundamental right of all TV owning Indians. Is Doordarshan committed to assuring that right?


Until last year, Doordarshan had exclusive rights for all cricket played in India under the auspices of the BCCI. This means that DD had the rights for every test match and one-dayer played in India. Now DD didn't have to fight anyone for it, right? It was all theirs. So were all TV owning Indians able to watch all cricket?


For at least the last five years or so, Doordarshan would telecast full test matches only on DD Sports which is, not just a cable channel, but a "paid" cable channel. This means that it is not enough to just have a dish antenna to catch DD Sports. You need to pay DD something to watch the channel. So only "privileged" cable TV owning homes could watch entire test matches.

The rest of the TV owning population was thrown morsels of test cricket. One hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. That was all being telecast on DD National. The remaining four hours could only be seen by cable TV homes.

So throw your mind back to March 2001 when VVS Laxman was scripting a historic fightback against Australia in Kolkatta. When he scored his 200th run, the only people watching it live were those who had cable TV. Why?

Because it was scored in the middle 4 hours of the day.

So Prasar Bharti, if you are so concerned about cable-less homes watching cricket, why don't you make DD Sports a channel like DD National or DD News, i.e a channel which anyone with a television can watch?

You want to make DD Sports a paid cable channel? So anyway cable homes will watch all cricket. And DD will make money. Let Ten make money then. At least they know that an over has 6 balls, not four.

Fortunately the Supreme Court too gave a sensible judgement. It restrained the Kerala High Court from interfering in the deal between DD and TEN by preventing it from hearing a PIL filed by Prasar Bharti.