Cricket on TV: Fatal attraction?

Productivity in South Asia can’t be all that high these days. A good part of our 1.5 billion combined population stays up late into the night, watching live TV broadcasts of cricket matches of the ICC World Cup.

Because the championship is hosted in the West Indies, time differences mean that each match would begin in the evening and continue into the early hours of our mornings.

Lots of people turn up at work with bleary eyes.

But that’s nothing compared to the many tears shed, sighs heaved and fists raised when South Asia’s cricket playing nations — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – lose a match.

The two cricket giants and rivals – India and Pakistan – both had shocking exits in the first round itself. This inspired much anguish, despair and anger. It also wrecked business plans of many South Asian TV networks, which had paid millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast World Cup cricket matches. Now they fear they cannot recover their investment.

Flying from Colombo to Hyderabad for an academic meeting, I read the latest (2 April 2007) issue of the Indian newsmagazine Outlook, which offered a good analysis of what went wrong for India in the World Cup. It’s one among many, many post mortems in the media.

Outlook Editor Vinod Mehta, one of India’s seniormost and outspoken journalists, writes a short piece in this issue, headlined ‘Fatal Attractions’.

In his typical style, he starts:
I told-you-so journalism can be both exasperating and juvenile. Thus, I get no pleasure in reminding you that four weeks before our determined fifteen left for the Caribbean, I had lamented: “Am I the only one turned off by Indian cricket? I’d much rather relax watching an old film than see our boys wield the willow. The occasional fluke victory is all we can hope for. The team looks pedestrian and, frequently, pathetic.

Then he gets more serious, saying we must ask ourselves if the media and the marketers are doing us a favour by injecting such hyper-nationalism ‘as they collectively raise unrealistic hopes of India’s conquests’.

He concludes:

“The martial music, the thumping of chests, the shouts of “India, India”, the painting of the national colours on faces, the patriotic exhortations of politicos suggests that the Cup is already in the bag; the winning is just a formality. When we experience not just defeat but a sound thrashing, the Indian cricket fan, who has been duped by slick promos and to some extent his own credulity, finds reality intolerable. If, instead, expectations were kept at a reasonable level we would not undergo such a tremendous feeling of being let down. We could cope with the disappointment.

“No other team in the World Cup, not even the Aussies and the Proteas, play under so much pressure, most of it induced by greedy advertisers hoping to exploit the passion for the game. I believe this exploitation has gone on long enough. The market must stop playing with the emotions of a nation. Meanwhile, we should remember we have just lost a game of cricket. We are not finished as a nation.”

Read the full commentary in Outlook Online

Arthur Clarke looking for signs of life in Colombo…

I have finally found my legitimate claim for being unique: I don’t follow cricket.

Yes, you heard me right. Despite being born and raised in Sri Lanka, and still being based there about half of my time, I have never been a great fan of cricket. I must be the only one in my office who gets a decent night’s sleep these days. Practically everyone stays up till the wee hours of the morning watching live TV broadcasts of the ICC World Cup cricket matches taking place literally on the other side of the globe: the West Indies.

There’s now a very close nexus between television and cricket. Live broadcasts beam instantly into our living rooms the action on a cricket field anywhere on the planet. In fact, thanks to the zoom-ins, slow-motion instant replays and other techniques, those who watch a cricket match on the small screen can share the action even better than the few thousand who witness it physically at the stadium. (And the screens are no longer very small: across cricket-crazy South Asia, sales have soared for plasma screens of increasingly large – if not mostrous – sizes.)

The man who made all this possible is slightly bemused — but not one bit affected — by all this frenzy. Sir Arthur C Clarke, science fiction author, futurist and inventor of the communications satellite, sits in his living room, pondering the near and far future of humanity that he helped transform into a Global Village.

That’s the only other person in the whole of Colombo that I know who isn’t infected by the current World Cup fever. (See my other post today for views of a rare Indian who doesn’t follow cricket and instead prefers to watch old movies.)

Writing a foreword to the UNDP’s Human Development Report in 2003, Sir Arthur noted: “Today, television rules how Sri Lankans work, dine and socialise. And when an important cricket match is being broadcast live, I have to look hard to find any signs of life on the streets of Colombo.”

We might opt out of following the cricket, making ourselves rather dull conversationalists these days, but if we dare to utter even a word against this de facto religion of South Asians, dire consequences are sure to follow.

A decade ago, Sir Arthur had a first hand experience to prove this. In a wide-ranging media interview, he told a visiting Reuters correspondent that he shared some people’s skepticism that cricket was the slowest form of animal life, because it takes so long. (A Test match can take as many as five full days, and still end without a clear result!).

Having mis-heard Sir Arthur, the Reuters man filed his story saying Arthur C Clarke calls cricket the `lowest form of life’.

That was enough to stir up a mini storm. It couldn’t have come at a worse time — Sri Lanka had just won the 1996 cricket World Cup and the country was still euphoric. For weeks, Sir Arthur had to cope with irate Sri Lankan cricket fans — as he told a visiting American journalist from The Philadelphia Inquirer, ‘I had a lot of explaining to do’.

Moral of the story:
1. Be always careful when talking to journalists.
2. Keep your criticism of cricket strictly to yourself.

Human Development Report Foreword by Sir Arthur C. Clarke: Communications for Goodness’ Sake

Read my later post: Arthur Clarke’s climate friendly advice: Don’t commute; communicate!

More memories of Theeban…

On March 17, I wrote about introducing our Children of Tsunami documentary at the DC Environmental Film Festival, and and how I dedicated the screening to Theeban – the Sri Lankan boy who survived the Asian Tsunami, but was killed in the island nation’s political violence on 3 March 2007.

My personal tribute to Theeban has been widely circulated online. Edited versions have appeared on MediaHelpingMedia (UK) and Asia Media from University of California Los Angeles (USA).

It appears that my tribute has moved many readers. I’ve heard from several by email – encouragingly, all supportive and sympathetic. Among those who wrote was young journalist Chathuri Dissanayake, who worked as a researcher for Video Image, the Sri Lankan production company we (TVE Asia Pacific) engaged to film Theeban’s unfolding story for most of 2005.

With her permission, I want to share her recollections and views:

It’s a very nice piece about Theeban. It captures what we had grown to love in the boy. The picture you have of him taken on I think our first visit brings back a lot of memories.

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When he was abducted (in late 2006), I always thought at least he is alive, now I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that he is no more. The best memory I have of him is his wide smile. The pictures you have chosen bears ample testimony as to how beautiful that is. Even though he couldn’t communicate with us coz of the language barrier his smile and eyes were so expressive. When I first met him at the camp what struck me most was his unspoilt innocence. I wish I had taken a bit more trouble to help him out after the filming ended.

Theeban gave life to harsh realities of the conflict in the country that I have lived all my life with. Before meeting Theeban and visiting his village, I only knew what media told me of the east but Theeban brought it closer to me. Earlier, when ever I heard of the violence in the north or the east, it was just news to me as it was to many living in the “right side of the country”. But the Children of Tsunami project opened up the other side of the story, and as a young journalist, I gained a lot of experience.

To me, Theeban was real and he represented many youngsters in the area. His scattered dreams and hopes were real and it is a tragedy that help doesn’t reach them. Nothing substantial was done to help him and many others like him to rebuild their lives. Theeban was too young for any sort of vocational training that was available, and he didn’t have the right qualifications. My dilemma of what would happen to Theeban and many like him whose futures were washed away in the Tsunami grew as all the options of vocational training I checked out for Theeban turned out that applicants needed at least (GCE) Ordinary Level. Theeban was forced to leave school and it looked as if it never struck to any authority that someone needs to look after the youths like Theeban.

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To me Theeban, like many others was another victim of forces that he had no control over. It was not his fault that a tidal wave destroyed his family but he paid for it dearly, gave up his education and took the responsibilities of the bread winner of the family on to his shoulders. When the Tsunami struck he was still hopeful he wanted to earn money and take care of his brothers. He missed his mother dearly but found a bit of comfort in his grandma. But the violence that sprang up in the area had no mercy on him. Theeban’s story ended in tragedy coz the forces that were against him were too strong for him to fight back. The hope I saw in his eyes still haunts me. But I take comfort in knowing that at least he tried to fight back. No matter what his shy smile and shining eyes will remain with me.

That is how I remember Theban best. A youth who managed to smile and have a hope for the future in spite of the trauma that he went through when many grown up men around him gave up on life.

Have you made your million dollars yet?

Money, money, money!

Many development film-makers like to decry our society’s obsession with money, consumerism and greed. Some would make films that passionately promote sharing ideas and resources at community level, and advocate common property resources over private ownership.

But when it comes to rights of their own film/s, these very film-makers would become extremely possessive: they want to restrict it in every conceivable way.

They feel justified in such sentiment and action: after all, they have invested a great deal of time, effort, creativity and hard-won resoures to make their films. They must now seek a ‘return on investment’ like everyone else (it’s a material world!). Film-makers too have families to feed.

No argument on that last one. But it would be interesting to find out how many – or how few – development films deliver any appreciable ‘returns on investment’ to their makers. Certainly in developing Asia, development film-makers will be seriously endangered species if they had to rely on license fees or royalties for their survival.
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After a dozen years of extensive networking with environment, wildlife and development film-makers across Asia Pacific, I have yet to come across a single film-maker who made his or her million dollars from a film.

Yet, many continue to cling on to the traditional notion of copyright in film, perhaps hoping that sooner or later, that cherished million bucks would come calling.

And in the meantime, they continue to approach every known funding source – and many unknown and unlikely ones – for supporting their next film. At TVE Asia Pacific, we receive our fair share of these requests every month – and we are not even a funding source for independent films! These requests are accompanied by impressive CVs or filmographies, listing past films produced.

Produced, yes. But how many are circulating? How many have been seen outside film festival circuits, or beyond a one-off broadcast (or two)? How many films are available for educational, advocacy, training or activist purposes at affordable cost of duplication and dispatch?

The answer is depressing: precious few.

Because our film-makers are waiting for their million dollar deal or sale, and won’t let go of their creations. Even if many have been made using development donor (i.e. public) funding, these films are not in the public domain.

That, to me, is incongruent with the lofty ideals that many development films proclaim: sharing ideas and resources at community level, and advocating common property resources.

We have to walk our talk, or we risk joining the already burgeoning ranks of hypocrites in our societies.

The time has come for documentary film-makers, especially those covering development topics, to take a fresh look at copyright. That doesn’t mean abandoning all our rights to be known and acknowledged as creators of our films.

For a start, I strongly recommend an interesting and insightful essay, “Shoot, Share and Create: Looking beyond copyright makes sense in film“, written by a young Indian lawyer-activist specialising in intellectual property. Lawrence Liang is a Bangalore-based lawyer who works at the Alternative Law Forum. I had the opportunity of meeting the dynamic and articulate Lawrence at the Asia Commons meeting in Bangkok in June 2005 – he’s certainly a man to watch in this rapidly evolving field of managing our digital commons and how to safeguard the public interest in the bewildering era of digital media.
Lawrence Liang

Here’s how he starts his essay, which he wrote as an open letter addressed to Indian documentary filmmakers:

When I was in law school, I had great aspirations of wanting to be a filmmaker, and an FTII-type (Film and TV Institute of India, a prominent school for film-making) friend told me the best place to start was to watch a lot of foreign films and documentaries. So I did that rather dutifully and spent many hours when I should have been reading corporate law, watching documentaries.

My fondest memory of my placement in Mumbai with a law firm was when we took off to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and watched Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayashankar’s film on the Yerawada prison in Pune.

I gave up on the idea of becoming a filmmaker after we finally did do a documentary on law school. But by then the bug had bitten and I had fallen in love with cinema and the documentary form as well. I think watching documentaries has also made me a better lawyer than I would have been if I read Ramiaya on the Indian Companies Act. So if I have written this rather longish argument about why documentary filmmakers should start thinking about open content licenses, it is with a sense of repaying a debt.

Read the full essay at Alternative Law Forum website

Read my own call for recognising poverty as a copyright free zone