The “Performance Audit Report on XIX Commonwealth Games (CWG-2010)” by the Comptroller and Auditor General has exposed massive irregularities in the Games’ preparation. Most of the prominent news media outlets (both print and electronic) have covered how the nation was looted by the likes of former Games Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi and how the UPA government (including the PM) remained mute spectators despite repeated warnings from different quarters.

But the CAG report also raises some uncomfortable questions with regard to the Indian media. Canary Trap, in a post on August 26, 2010, revealed how various top media outlets competed with each other to grab the ‘deal’ for providing ‘positive media coverage’ to the CWG 2010.

Let me reproduce few paragraphs from that post:

According to sources in the CWG OC, sometime in October last year, Suresh Kalmadi met with officials of top media companies and urged them to support the games. He focused on the English media as he was advised that it was a preferred choice of the opinion makers.

During this time, a leading English newspaper (with largest circulation in India) sent a proposal to Kalmadi for positive coverage of the Commonwealth Games in November 2009. The entire deal was worth Rs 12.19 crore. The media group wanted an “Official Newspaper” status for its flagship newspaper.

As a part of its exhaustive coverage, the newspaper promised special features, CWG quiz, seminars, marathon in major cities and towns, Q&As, and even a coffee table book.

The proposal stated: “We do not solicit any financial assistance from CWG for the above activities apart from the regular advertising support for encouragement.”

The newspaper proposal lists down the content plan for CWG 2010, while also clearly mentioning that some of its editorials will solely focus on the Games in a credible non-advertising format. The proposal mentions editorial content plan for milestone days (Republic Day – Jan 26, Commonwealth Day – March 8, QBR reaching India – June 25, 50 days to go – August 14, and September 15).

The proposal lists its benefits wherein it mentions that the proposed coverage plan has the “potential to form opinions of the public at large”. And then comes the clincher. It says: “It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.”

The media group also hinted that if the proposal is accepted it would consider beneficial and extended deals with its other properties (Internet, TV, Radio).  Click here to read the proposal submitted by the newspaper  

Coming back the latest CAG report on CWG 2010. Let me reproduce some excerpts from the report, which will reveal the double standards of our mainstream media.

1. GAMES BRANDING: IMAGE AND LOOK

Award of contract on ad hoc basis to selected TV channels

OC awarded contracts for Rs. 3.78 crore for production and broadcasting of commercials for promoting of CWG-2010 to CNN-IBN and NDTV. An arbitrary approach was followed, with no planning for specific channels and time slots, cost benefit analysis, benchmarking of rates and tenders. Proposals were considered, in an ad hoc manner, as and when a proposal was received; no form of competitive tendering was adopted. We had no assurance about the competitiveness of the rates quoted by these channels and the need and usefulness of the proposals.

From March 2010 to June 2010, the entire pre games publicity and sponsorship publicity was done only on NDTV and CNN-IBN.

Further, although OC had rights to telecast commercials produced by these channels (particularly for celebrity films, special episodes on development of games) it never used these commercials. Instead, it separately spent Rs. 0.81 crore on the production of films during Games time.

2. OFFICIAL GAMES TIME WEBSITE: 

The Games Time website was effectively the main internet platform for CWG2010 to disseminate real time information on sporting events during the Games. Although the Games Time Website is a standard and predictable feature of all multi sport international events, this was no planned or considered till June 2010, when, after CGF criticism, the proposal for creating a Games Time Website was initiated. OC also failed to exploit the opportunity for revenue generation from the Official Games Time website through advertisement revenue due to deficient and delayed planning.

Irregular Award of Contract to HT-Hungama:

The bidding process was squeezed and completed within two months, leading to several irregularities in the award of the contract of HT-Hungama at Rs. 2.95 crore in August 2010:

  • Global tendering was not followed and only 10 days time was given for responses;
  • The RFP stipulated past experience in international multisport events as a pre-qualification. A day before the final bid submission date, this criterion was relaxed on the grounds that no bidder might qualify on these criteria. We have no evidence of this corrigendum being published on the website/newspapers. Three bids from HT-Hungama, HCL Infosystems-NDTV Convergence and TCS-Sports Interactive were received; interestingly, all three did not have such experience but were termed as technically qualified under the relaxed criteria;
  • The documentation from Hungama regarding its consortium with Hindustan Times was deficient, but was ignored by the technical evaluation committee;
  • Despite complaints that bids were received in loose sheets, unbound and unsealed, Hungama’s bid was accepted;
  • Although Hungama’s commercial bid was L-3 at Rs. 7.94 crore, it was declared L-1 by taking into account a cash discount of Rs. 4.65 crore offered by them. We cannot confirm whether the offer of cash discount was actually received along with the bid. This L-1 bid was reduced further to Rs. 2.95 crore after negotiations.

“The bids were not received in a sealed cover as is the stipulation. This evidently led to complaints. Further, audit has seen no proof of the cash discount reportedly offered by Hungama actually accompany the bid to convert it into L-1. There was relaxation in the RFP criteria also. Such infirmities in the award to Hungama lack transparency and lead to the conclusion that the process was tweaked in their favor.”

Performance of the Website: 

While there was adverse media reports on the performance of the website, quoting problems of speed and non availability of real time information, the documentation at the OC’s end was sparse and unreliable. Even the CGF head, Shri Mike Fennel stated that “there is certainly a big problem with the Official Games Time Website”.

OC’s vetting of the content hosted on the website was also deficient, as the list of participating nations incorrectly included Korea, Japan, Philippines and even the US. Even the archival CD/DVD of the fully functional website, which was to be provided by November 2010, had not been given by the vendor till March 2011.

Despite these facts, OC failed to encash the performance guarantee of Rs. 0.29 crore; there was no other contractual provisions for penalties in case of non performance.

 3. REVENUE GENERATION BY OC: NEW MEDIA RIGHTS

OC failed to exploit the commercial potential of new media rights (Internet, streaming video e.g. youtube.com, SMS and mobile telephony, mobile TV etc.) While international new media rights were awarded to international RHBs (along with TV and radion and broadcast rights), there were conflicts between OC and Prasar Bharti on domestic rights. Finally, OC granted:

  • Mobile telephony new media rights on a non-exclusive basis to PB in September 2010;
  • Internet rights (Live Streaming) on nomination basis without revenue element to Times Internet in October; and
  • Live Streaming of Games on mobile to Smile of India on nomination basis with a minimum guaranteed revenue of Rs. 5 lakh and revenue share of 35 percent of revenue accrued.
  • Mobile infotainment rights on nomination basis to a KPMG-Smile India consortium, with a 10 per cent revenue share (subject to a guarantee of Rs. 5 lakh); however, no revenues were received till December 2010.

OC failed to receive any revenue, whatsoever, from Big Screen and new media rights in domestic broadcasting for CWG-2010.