Thursday, November 22, 2012

Doordarshan's 'piracy' spoilt India's image

The first stage of the India-Pakistan cricket series, the one-day internationals, will be over by the time you read this. It has -- barring the controversy over rigging and Shoaib Akhtar's [Images ] bowling action apart -- gone off rather well. Most media reports have reflected the enthusiasm of the Pakistani crowds. My own feelings, however, are mixed, and that because of two issues that have not received their due in the media.
The first is the manner in which Doordarshan grabbed the rights to telecast the series. Don't get me wrong, I am happy that most Indians got the chance to see some exciting matches but has the enthusiasm for this game eroded India's [Images] image in the larger world?

Let me explain what I mean with a parallel hypothesis. This, we all admit, is the Internet Age, one where familiarity with a computer is absolutely essential. The operating system that takes pride of place is Microsoft's [Images] Windows (in some flavor or the other). Would this justify some organization such as, say, the NCERT [National Council Of Educational Research Training] engaging mass copying of this software and distributing it? Would it be acceptable if NCERT agreed to pay some nominal fee to Microsoft and also agreed that it would try its best to prevent the pirated discs from being exported outside India?

There would be an immediate uproar if the above scenario took place. But that is, if you change a few names here and there, precisely what happened with regard to Doordarshan and Ten Sports. The latter had bought the television rights to the India-Pakistan series fair and square. Doordarshan had not even placed a bid because the relationship between India and Pakistan was so bad at the time that it seemed unlikely the tour would ever take place. So when the first match took place, Doordarshan's riposte was to steal the signals and broadcast them on its own.

The excuse on offer was 'public interest.' That is nonsense! 'Public interest' is about pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink, it is about protecting the common man from the vagaries of bureaucracy, and it is trying to ensure that no child lacks access to a decent school and primary health. But when did the 'Right to Entertainment' become a Fundamental Right in the Constitution?

India is already looked down upon in sections of the developed world because of its lackadaisical approach to intellectual property rights. Does anyone believe that this piracy -- which is what Doordarshan's actions amount to -- have helped the situation? Haven't they, if anything, amounted to a handful of mud thrown on India's face?

If the brouhaha over the television rights amounted to a black mark for the Indian establishment, the other great, untold story of the series is the reaction of the Indian people at large. Not so very long ago a match between India and Pakistan was a match that could ignite riots almost at will. The communal divide was absolutely clear at such times.

I remember visiting Vadodara on one occasion when a police officer who was accompanying me -- a Sikh gentleman -- pointed in utter disgust at a Muslim shopkeeper who had put up photographs of various Pakistani cricketers. 'Can't you at least put up a picture of Syed Kirmani as well?' he barked at the trader. You could tell the religious affiliation of the owner by the pictures in his shop. In those days the police were always nervous about a riot following a match -- either because Muslims would celebrate a Pakistani victory or Hindus would demonstrate their exultation at an Indian win by taking a procession through the Muslim quarters of the city.

This time, it has all been mercifully 'incident-free' (to use the euphemism employed by the police). Barring some tension in Satara in Maharashtra [Images], all of India seemed to rejoice or mourn as one. (And even in Satara, the elders of the Muslim community stepped in to rein in the mischief-makers almost as soon as they started bursting crackers after the Indian defeat in Rawalpindi).

The police -- so I am assured by several friends in the service -- have never been so relieved. It is, of course, early days yet but this is the first time in many years that policemen have been able to sit back and actually watch cricket. This seems to be true in states across India. And this is one factor that actually does make one feel good. (Or would if it had been reported by the media!)

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