Monday, November 20, 2006

Media hypocricy

The coverage of Jessica Lall murder case on our 24x7 news channels has been bordering on ridiculous for some time now. But Karan Thapar's interview of Ram Jethmalani on Sunday went way beyond the ridiculous.

The whole basis of Thapar's questioning was that the argument used by Mr. Jethmalani in the court is immoral and unethical. Implicit in that suggestion is that the argument is also false and not based on facts. Because, surely if the argument is based on fact, then Thapar can hardly accuse it of being immoral. So, the question then is, on what basis did Karan Thapar conclude that the argument isn't based on fact? Isn't it the job of the judges to make that decision? Why is the media so eager to pronounce judgement in this case. First there was another CNN-IBN anchor pronouncing that Manu Sharma was "indefensible". Now we have Thapar claiming that Jethmalani's arguments are "immoral". Hey guys, how about leaving it to the courts to decide the matter for a change?

Another argument made by Thapar was that Jethmalani was "maligning the reputation of a dead woman who can't defend herself". That's one of the lamest arguments I have ever heard and it is sad to see it coming from a person like Karan Thapar. Now, as I said above, if the claims made by Jethmalani in court is true and crucial to the case, then you can hardly expect him to NOT make those claims just because it allegedly maligns the reputation of a dead woman. If the claims weren't relevant, then surely judges wouldn't have allowed them to be made. As for the veracity of those claims, again, let the judges decide. But, I have a question for the media. If these guys are so concerned about Jessica's reputation being tarnished, then why are they publishing these arguments being made in court? Jethmalani atleast has a reason for making those arguments - he is defending his client. What reason on earth do media have for publishing those arguments, except to increase their TRP ratings?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Plan for restructuring cricket

Interesting interview with BCCI Vice President Lalit Modi on CI. He makes it quite clear why BCCI is frequently having issues with ICC. It is not because BCCI is being greedy or arrogant, but because all the money in Cricket at present is in India and everybody, including ICC and all the other boards, want to have a share of this money. BCCI is naturally trying to protect its turf.

Some quotes:
Tony Greig:
This country has now become the banker of world cricket. There is no doubt about that: this is where the money is and everyone realises it. Knowing the abundance of money here all the world of cricket including Cricket Australia realise that if they want to implement some of their programs this is the key to it.

Lalit Modi:
But you got to keep in mind that when we look at their schedule, when we look at their balance sheets, whether it's right or wrong, majority of these sports are making their money only when India plays with them and that's once in four years. And if you see at the rest of the matches you will see a big spike: two million dollars a game when India plays, when India doesn't play it is 100,000
dollars a game. So they actually make money only when India plays except for the Ashes. Apart from that none of these boards make any money.

I think this is a ridiculous situation to be in for many reasons. First of all, all these teams are supposed to be competing with India, but how can they compete when their boards are making money only when they play against India and hence are dependent on BCCI for their very survival?! Secondly, why should Indian money be financing all these various boards and ICC? Let the Indian money stay within India.

So, how do we achieve this? To do that, teams should have roughly equal sized markets. However, there is no other country which has a cricket market anywhere close to India's size. So, the only way to go forward is to have multiple teams within India. Let there be four teams, one from each zone. In addition to those four, let there be teams from Australia, England, Pakistan and Africa. I think those eight teams will make for a terrific league. There will be intense rivalry between all the teams. In the present league, hardly anyone cares for teams like New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka, not to mention Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. That means, five out of ten teams are uninteresting or boring. Which means, out of the 45 possible match-ups, 35 or close to 80% of the match-ups have suboptimal viewer interest. Compare that to the league suggested above, in which every single rivarly will have huge fan following and generates tremendous interest. Be it any of the Indian regional teams vs Pakistan/Australia/Africa/England or the inter-regional matches like South vs North or North vs West etc. What's more, the teams will have roughly equal sized markets, so we won't have the kind of situation where one team will be driving the entire cricket world.

Ofcourse, you can't name the teams as North, South etc. You can't shout those names in the stadium. But not a problem. Go retro and name the teams as Uttar, Dakshin, Pashchim and Poorab. I can already imagine myself shouting "Dakshiiiin, Dakshiin"!
Ofcourse, players will be free to move from team to team, so you can have a Ponting playing for Dakshin or Dravid playing for Australia.

You might say the Indian regional teams won't be of test standard. Which is utter nonsense. If Sri Lanka with a population of 50 million and the same economic standards as India can produce a test side, there is no reason why each region of India with over 250 million population cannot produce a test side. To start with, they can use imported players to improve the quality of the teams, till they produce required number of Test quality players.

I think this proposal keeps the international flavour of the game, takes unwanted/uninteresting teams out of the picture, restores balance in terms of market sizes of teams and makes for a terrific league. What say?

Monday, October 09, 2006

BCCI's bid for global rights irks some people

BCCI's announcement of bidding for global rights of ICC events has elicited some strange response from certain quarters. Scyld Berry writing in Telegraph rants about "India's bid for world domination". So, according to Berry, was Murdoch's Global Cricket Corporation, which owned the rights for last 2 world cups, running world cricket for last four years? Or does Berry fear about world domination only because it has come from an Indian organization?

A quote on Cricinfo goes even further, questioning BCCI's capability to handle such rights:
"This is an organisation that only set up its own website in the last year or so. Not so long ago, frustrated observers would complain that it was incapable of answering a letter. Now it is saying, 'We'll deal with worldwide television for you'."
Wisden Almanack editor Matthew Engel on the Indian board's move to bid for global TV rights

Now, could someone please tell Mr. Engel that BCCI has successfully sold the rights for its home matches for close to a billion dollars, so they know a thing or two about selling television rights? Incidentally, BCCI is in the process of setting up its portal ( which according to Lalit Modi will be the best sports portal in the world. Is that what is worrying Cricinfo and Mr. Engel (Wisden owns Cricinfo, btw)?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cricket moving to club format - gonna happen soon?

Google search threw up couple of slightly old interviews with BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi. Very interesting...

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

"Modi also said a national inter-city league and a Twenty20 tournament, in which each side plays 20 overs, would be launched in the 2006-07 season.

'The inter-city league will be on the lines of the Premier Football League (of England), and we will have separate television, merchandising and grounds right for that,' he disclosed, and added it would not be part of the rights that Nimbus holds.

'It will probably become the single largest revenue earner for the BCCI in the years to come, if we structure it right. It will also help us drive crowds back to domestic cricket and help build more stars.'

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Now to cricket. Do you see it eventually moving away from its nation-based structure to something like football, where the real interest lies in club rivalries?

Oh yes. It's gonna happen. The intercity cricket league is going to happen. My next big project which I'm going to announce. I'm still not ready for it because the game has evolved since the last time I developed it. It will be a home-and away concept. We hope to launch that by the end of the year.

He also talks about his earlier attempts to start an inter-city league almost a decade back which was scuttled by the then BCCI. This guy is smart, I tell ya.

No wonder he doesn't mind taking ICC on. He believes the domestic league will be the biggest revenue earner for BCCI, rather than this stupid international cricket.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An afternoon of adventure

I was studying in fifth standard when we shifted our house from Agrahara, one of Mysore's older central localities to Saraswathipuram, a relatively posher locality on the outskirts of the city("extension", as we used to call these outlying new areas then). Consequently, I had to change schools too. Probably a month had passed in the new school when one day the school was declared closed for afternoon due to some teachers' meeting or something. My younger brother, two years junior to me, was also studying in the same school. We finished our lunch boxes and then weren't sure what to do for the afternoon. No one will be home and we didn't have the key. Mom used to teach in a school in another part of the town, close to Agrahara. Dad's office was close to our school, but we knew he won't let the two of us go home by ourselves - he will either ask us to stay with him in the office or insist on taking us home. Idea of spending the rest of the day with our disciplinarian dad didn't quite excite us.

That's when we got the idea. Let's go to ajji's place! Our ajji (mother's mother) was also staying in Agrahara, quite close to our old place. When we were staying in Agrahara, our daily routine used to be to go to ajji's place on the way to school in the morning and drop off a set of clothes to be used later in the day (and anything else mom had asked us to carry). Once the school was over in the afternoon, go back to ajji's place, change from school uniform to "home clothes", eat the snacks that ajji has prepared (dosa, uppittu, idli, chapati, etc) and then run off to play with friends. Mom and her sisters used to come back from work later in the evening, gossip among themselves and with their mother for a couple of hours over snacks and coffee. By the time we were done with our play and Mom with her gossip it used to be well past 7 in the evening. Off we used to go to our place, just in time to have dinner, finish whatever little homework that is to be done and then to bed. As a result we used to spend a good portion of our waking and non-schooling hours in ajji's place, all our friends were from that street rather than near our own house etc. Since ajji was always at home, we never had to worry about things like what to do if the school closed early.

Now, barely a month in the new locality and new school, we were already missing ajji, aunts and our friends from that street. We had been there just once or twice in the whole month and for those who were used to spending close to 4 hours everyday there, that was clearly not enough. So this half-day closure of school (remember where we started?) came as a blessing for us. Going to ajji's place for the afternoon, having the snacks prepared by her and reconnecting with friends there seemed like a perfect idea. But then came the question - how to go there? It was quite far, atleast by Mysore standards. We could have taken the city bus, but neither of us had a penny in our pockets to pay for the bus fare. But our enthusiasm to go to our favourite granny's place was such that we didn't let such petty things come in our way. We decided to walk all the way.

By the time we reached Saraswathipuram 1st main bus stop, barely 1/10th of the total distance to be covered, we were already a bit tired and the thought of going ticketless on city bus did cross our minds. But a sense of self-respect and the fear of getting caught (more of latter than former) prevented us from taking that route, and we marched on. Soon we reached district court office and the road diverged there - which led us to our next problem. Which road to take? As I said, we had only been in S.Puram for a month and weren't much familiar with the route. After a bit of thought, I said "Left" and off we went. It was only when we reached RTO office and saw the familiar landmark of a house with a chariot on top that we were sure we were on right track. We continued with more vigour, now certain that reaching the destination was only a matter of time.

Soon we reached Siddappa Square and mom's school was nearby. We entered the school and mom was surprised to see us there. "How come you are here? How did you come all the way from school?". "School is closed for afternoon, amma. We came walking". She was close to tears hearing that. Her colleagues started hugging us and we felt like some heroes. Mom hurriedly took permission for half an hour from her headmaster, we took an auto and headed to ajji's place. Mom dropped us off and went back to school. More hugging and crying by Ajji. She prepared our favorite snack - akki rotti. Mom and aunts came back in the evening and the entire discussion that day was focussed on our heroic walk. There was quite a bit of crying and some cursing of our dad too, for having shifted to that "godforsaken" place against everyone's wishes and for having separated the kids from their grandparents.

As for us - we enjoyed the walk, enjoyed all the attention and were happy to be back in familiar place with familiar people. And oh, akki rotti I had that day is probably the best I have ever had in my whole life. All things considered, not a bad afternoon.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who makes money from Cricket?

It is fairly well-known that India accounts for close to 70% of the total cricket market. Thanks to BCCI's recent much-publicised broadcasting deals, it is also fairly well-known that the Indian board is the richest among all cricket boards. Yet, what is not so well-known is that this huge Indian market for cricket, apart from enriching BCCI, also sustains many of the cricket boards world-wide. That is because of the system cricket follows where the hosts own all rights for the series they organize. So when India goes and plays a series abroad, it is those foreign boards who make money from the Indian market. We play a series in Pakistan and PCB makes a cool $150 million from Indian market. We play in Windies and WICB hits a jackpot. We play the world cup or a Champions Trophy and it is the ICC which makes mega bucks out of those events. So much so that, most of the boards, like Windies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, etc are surviving mostly on the money they make by hosting India or from the handouts from ICC.

Sometimes, the consequences of such a system goes beyond financial. PCB for example, has awarded the rights to matches held in Pakistan to Dubai-based Ten Sports channel, owned by Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir. Now, Bukhatir is apparently still close to Dawood Ibrahim and played a key role in Dawood's daughter's wedding. Which means, every time we play in Pakistan and millions of Indians tune into watch the match, it is quite possible that we are contributing to the coffers of India's most wanted terrorist.

Good thing is, there is a simple solution to solve this problem. All that needs to be done is, instead of having the hosts own all the rights, let each board have the telecast rights for its territory irrespective of where the match is being played. So BCCI owns the rights for Indian territory, irrespective of whether it is a home series or away series or world cup. Similarly, ECB for UK territory, CA for Australia, PCB for Pakistan and so on. Let the ICC own the rights for all neutral territories like USA, Far east etc. That way, every board makes money from the market they have created, rather than freeloading off others' markets. Sure, that could lead to some of the boards like Windies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka going bankrupt, but so be it. If there isn't enough market there for cricket to survive, there is no point in sustaining those boards artificially. There is enough demand for cricket in India, Pakistan, Australia and England and let cricket cater to that market well. If you think four teams aren't enough to have a decent league, then create multiple teams within India. As it is we have enough diversity based on region/language etc that we can create a good rivalry between these teams. Let these regional teams also import players from outside to strengthen the team initially, while we develop strong teams. So a league of eight teams, say South/North/West/East India, Pakistan, Australia, England and Africa will make for terrific cricket. The markets will also be pretty evenly balanced, so you won't have the current situation where India accounts for 70% of the market. Allow for movement of players from team to team, so that the players can also earn their true market value. As it is, in the current system, the players can only play for one team, which means they are the bonded labourers of their respective board. A few can make money from advertising, but those who can't have to live on the pittance that the board pays them. If you allow for movement of players, they will also be more competitive and that makes for good cricket.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Google news archive search - History brought alive

Google news has a new feature - ability to search archives of newspapers and magazines going back over 200 years. For now, the sources seem to be mostly Time, Guardian and Washington Post, of which the first two are free but the Post is pay-per-view. But Time alone is good enough. You can read reports of historic events as they happened and understand how they were viewed while they were happening. Be it Hitler's rise in Germany or India's struggle for independence.

Speaking of latter, there is a school of thought among some Indians that Gandhi's role in India getting freedom from British isn't as great as it is made out to be, that the second world war played a bigger role in Britain's decision to leave India, etc. Couple of reports from Time in 1930 - one on Gandhi's Dandi march and the other on 1930 Man of the Year is enough to show that Gandhi's independence movement had become a major threat to the British long before Hitler had even come to power in Germany. So much for the revisionists.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Like father, like son

Read a nice article on Mohammad Ayazuddin, a 14-year-old promising cricketer from Hyderabad. If this kid goes on to play for India, that's one thing that will probably get me hooked to cricket all over again. The same gaping mouth, same open-chested stance, loose grip, apparently he even nods with a bowed head like his father. Go Ayaz!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Doordarshan vs Cable TV

Cable Television has been around in India for more than a decade now. Considering that the peak of Doordarshan as a monopoly lasted for less than a decade - from 1984 when it really began expanding nationwide till the advent of cable tv in 1992 - I thought it is time to compare the two to see which has fared better in terms of providing entertainment, information and education to the viewers. The monopoly of a state-owned broadcaster or the competition among private players?

Even as I set out to do the comparison, I ran into a problem. I used to be a regular DD watcher when growing up - seeing as that was the only source of entertainment back then and being a student I had plenty of time on my hands. I used to watch most of the serials, the news, current affairs program, sports etc (some say I even used to watch Krishi Darshan, but there is no truth to it. That was only for the first year or so :-) But since I started working around the same time as cable TV started, and hence time became somewhat of a scarce commodity, I haven't watched as much of cable as I have of DD. So it was never going to be an objective comparison, but since when is objectivity a requirement for blogging?

So, anyway, as I started comparing, I found that there is just no comparison. I could come up with dozens of programs that I liked and remembered on DD, but for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single cable program that I have watched in last decade that I really liked (not counting the likes of BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery etc - I am comparing DD with the Indian cable channels to compare apples with apples). The DD list was seemingly endless. In no particular order and off the top of my head - Buniyaad, Darpan, Katha Sagar, Tamas, Yatra, Intezaar, Nukkad, Bharat Ek Khoj, Malgudi Days, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Choti Badi Baatein, Vikram aur Betal, Mirza Ghalib. Heck, even Mahabharat had its likeable moments (not Ramayan though). And this is just those programs which we used to call "serials". On top of that there were documentaries, the musical programs (sunday morning National Integraion show or some such), discussion programs (there used to be one hosted by Vinod Dua on Sundays called Phursat mein or some thing), award winning movies from such renowned directors as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal etc. And what do we have on the cable side? Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi? Indian Idol? Even the much hyped KBC was not a patch on DD's Quiz Time, if you ask me, in terms of the quality of questions or of participants.

So how did this come to pass? How come a state-owned, cash-strapped monopoly could churn out entertaining *and* informative programs at such a regular rate, but the cash-rich private players can only come up with duds like Ghar ghar ki Kahani? Is it just my nostalgia or is free market really inferior to state-owned monopoly when it comes to providing meaningful entertainment? Note, the operative word there is meaningful. I have no doubt whatsoever in market's capability in delivering endless jhatka's of Rakhi Sawant into our living rooms. But why can't all those zillion channels produce a simple Darpan or Tamas?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Some observations on NRI's

This comment on a blog triggered me to post these thoughts on NRI's which I have been thinking for some time.

In my observation I have found that NRI's are more negative on India than those who are living here. They generally tend to highlight the bad aspects of India in discussions, they are more alarmed by any bad incidents happening in India etc. It has always intrigued me as to what could be the reasons for this - after all these people are all highly intelligent, reasonable, successful people and there is no reason to suspect that they have anything against India per se. In fact, most of them do care a lot for India. Then why this harping on the negative aspects of India? (Actually, the last two sentences could provide a reason for this - that they are intelligent and hence can see what is going wrong with India and care for India enough to voice their opinion about it - could be, but I don't think it is just that). Here is what I think are some of the reasons.

Having lived in a developed country for some time, they are more sensitised about issues like corruption, freedom of expression, value for human life etc - more so than the resident Indians. So a corruption scandal or a farmer's death is viewed more seriously by them, whereas those of us who have lived here most of the time just take it as part of life. I mean, we don't even think politicians can be anything but corrupt.

Added to that, they get most information about India through news media on a daily basis. And it is a well-known fact that media generally has more bad news than good news. So, if you read Deccan Herald, you will find reports about deaths and rapes and murders which happened in Bangalore yesterday. What you are not going to find is that a beautiful park opened in my neighbourhood or that there is a nice darshini serving excellent dosas or that there was a great classical music concert two days back and so on. When rains flood the Bangalore roads it becomes front page news, but the papers don't report the beautfiul Bangalore weather for rest of 364 days a year. For us, it is those latter things we see most of the time. Yes, we also see garbage on the road, traffic jams etc and we do read about deaths and murders in paper, but the point is we also see these other positive things which kind of gives us a balanced picture. But for someone sitting in US, as he keeps reading about only the bad things everyday, the negative image keeps getting reinforced.

Now for the controversial part - it is that keeping and reinforcing this negative image sort of serves the NRI's purpose at a subconscious level. Most of the NRI's, whether they admit it or not, feel this need to justify their decision of having moved abroad. And let's face it, after a while, life in US does get very boring compared to life in India. Life may be hard here, but it is never boring. Sure, we have the traffic jams and pollution and crime and what not, but we also have many more means of entertainment here compared to US. Most of the family and relatives live here and we have the regular get-togethers be it for a naming ceremony or birthday party or a wedding or even a death. We have our festivals - especially those like Ganesha Chaturthi, Dasara and Deepavali which are celebrated in public. They may have their Indian associations or kannada sangha's but the celebration there doesn't come close to the experience in India. Come next week, there will be loudspeakers blaring out "orchestras" all over Bangalore for Ganeshana habba. It might irritate you when you are trying to get some sleep, but it is never boring. So, anyway, when the NRI's compare their boring life in a US suburb - same old commute to office and back, grocery shopping and visits to mall over weekends - they feel they are missing out on all the excitement in India. However, they can't just shift overnight - so what better defense than to have this negative image of India. They may not do it consciously, but without their knowledge they keep reinforcing this negative image because it makes them feel that they have done the right thing by moving abroad.