By Ranjit Jayasundera
Sensational evidence has come to light that demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that in Sri Lanka fortune favours not necessarily the bold but certainly the favoured. Carlton Sports Network (CSN) a company incorporated on 10th February 2011 has won the rights to broadcast the Australian Cricket tour of Sri Lanka next month.
Taking advantage of an almost tailor-made Cabinet decision, that all Sri Lanka Cricket matches must be broadcast only by a state-owned broadcaster and or a dedicated sports channel, CSN made a bid and has concluded an arrangement to broadcast the Australian tour of Sri Lanka – just for starters.
Not bad for a company that simply did not exist six months ago. How, one may wonder, does CSN go straight from registration to the pinnacle of broadcasting success in such a short space of time. The secret may lie in the Form 1 maintained by the Registrar of Companies. It makes for compelling reading:
CARLTON SPORTS NETWORK (PVT) LIMITED was registered on 10th February 2011. Its registered address is listed as 260/12 Torrington Avenue, Colombo 5.
The Directors are listed as:
S. K. Dissanayaka 7/2 Vaidya Road, Mount Lavinia, A. R. Fernando 29/3 Samudra Mawatha, Panadura, S. Karunajeewa 31/3 Horton Place, Colombo 7, R. Welivita 33 Hospital Road, Homagama. Mr Karunajeewa has rather a well connected father: Chairman, People’s Bank.
Rohan Welivita is a Presidential Adviser on Electronic Media and the force behind a broadcasting licence issued in the name of Sri Lakvahini. Sri Lakvahini is currently in the market according to industry sources, looking for a suitable partner to commence operations.
Rohan Welivita is married to Anoma Welivita, who is a PA to First Lady, Shiranthi Rajapaksa. Anoma Welivita’s father is the former MP for Kalawana, Lionel Gunasekera. Her brother Wasantha is a long-standing associate of Minister S. B. Dissanayaka.
Fortune certainly favours the favoured. The house at 260/12 Torrington Avenue, Colombo 5 which is listed as the registered address of Carlton Sports Network (Pvt) Limited had an extremely famous occupant some years ago. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2004, the house was used by none other than Mahinda Percy Rajapaksa – who went on to become the 13th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and then in 2005 – the 6th President of Sri Lanka.
Since 1996 – the year Sri Lanka won the World Cup Cricket – state broadcaster Rupavahini (SLRC) Corporation, has held on to the monopoly of broadcasting cricketing events with the exception of one year when it lost to a private channel. SLRC has used its English language station ‘Eye Channel’ to broadcast important cricket matches and has consistently outbid other broadcasters including ITN and the private media. The World Cup 2011 tournament saw Rupavahini earn a colossal Rs 556 Million in revenue largely from advertising. Corresspondingly it had bid and paid Rs 143 Million to secure those rights. Union sources at Rupavahini said that the loss of earnings would spell financial disaster to the Corporation – he clearly said, “ we are not needed now that most of the elections are over with.”
For the forthcoming Australia tour of Sri Lanka, SLRC had made a bid of Rs 30 Million to secure the broadcasting rights but Sri Lanka Cricket has been unable to confirm that Rupavahini and its Eye Channel subsidiary will be given the rights. Lakith Pieris from Sri Lanka Cricket’s Marketing department was not available for comment though a spokesperson said that SLC had yet to award the local broadcasting rights as at 22nd July 2011. We asked specifically if Carlton Sports would be the local broadcaster at which point we were told we had to speak with Lakith Pieris.
As of the morning of 22nd July 2011, Sri Lanka Cricket was still waiting on Carlton Sports Network, to demonstrate that it was able to broadcast its signals ‘islandwide’ – which was an essential component for awarding the local broadcasting rights. The question many insiders have asked is whether Sri Lanka Cricket and its TV rights partner 10-Sports will wait on any other TV channel to prove their technical credibility, capability and competence. Especially given that there was an offer on the table of Rs 30 Million from Rupavahini, who have demonstrated their technical and other competencies over a number of years. The SLRC offer was initially Rs 17 Million, then upped it to Rs 25 Million and subsequently upped again to Rs 30 Million, according sources at the state broadcaster who spoke to us on conditions of anonymity. It is also an accepted fact that the Rupavahini signal is available all over Sri Lanka.
CSN were struggling on Friday, 22nd to complete their installations: of both, their transmitter and the Satellite antenna. The technical powers that be at Rupavahini had categorically refused CSN permission to use their tower on Pidurutalagala. Instead CSN used a tower said to be used by the Sri Lanka Navy to place their Satellite dish. Power was provided by the Ceylon Electricity Board, which would be par for the course.
In the backdrop of these rather strange and perplexing events which appear to drive Sri Lanka’s quest for internationally acceptable transparency completely under the carpet, are serious questions as to why no other broadcaster has raised objections to the latest Cabinet memorandum. The memorandum clearly precludes other privately owned broadcasters with a proviso that ‘sports channels’ may also bid for the local rights along with state broadcasters. This cabinet memorandum does not provide the definition of ‘sports channel’ leaving the door wide open for the matter to be tested in the Supreme Court as a possible fundamental rights violation.
Carlton Sports has a close and cosy relationship with ITN. Initially when ITN took on lease the licence held by businessman Nahil Wijesuriya (which was granted to the Hela Uramaya) at a rental of approximately Rs 2.5 Million per month, an English language channel called PRIME TV was started, However, when that started to loose money – because the coverage was very limited and therefore attracting advertisers was much more difficult – a decision was taken to close down PRIME TV. Minister Keheliya Rambukwella obtained the concurrence of President Rajapaksa to close down PRIME TV only to be later informed that in hindsight, “it would not be a good thing for you to close down a channel under your watch – not good for your career.” At the time Rambukwella is said to have given his concurrence to close PRIME TV, as they were losing money apparently in the region of Rs 3 Million per month. Currently however close confidantes report that Rambukwella considered his “hands tied” when it came to PRIME TV.
Earlier this week Mangala Samaraweera a former Cabinet Minister under President Rajapaksa, charged that there was an improper relationship between CSN, Rupavahini and ITN and the Presidential Secretariat. Samaraweera also said that Yasara Abeynaike, (grand-daughter of actor-politician Gamini Fonseka) was the head of the CSN Network. The former Sri Lanka Cricket Secretary, Nishantha Ranatunga, admitted that he was the Chief Executive of Carlton Sports Network. Contrary to ICC rules Ranataunga was also at the same time holding office at Sri Lanka Cricket. However as he was a Ministerial appointee, he would not have required permission to overcome the ICC rule in this particular instance.
Somerset Entertainment Ventures : SLC takes just 4 days to study new company
Hot on the heels of Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports changing the guard at Sri Lanka Cricket controversial evidence has emerged of the shadowy company known as Somerset Entertainment Ventures Pvt Ltd of Singapore (SEV).
Somerset Entertainment Ventures Pvt Limited of 5 Shenton Way UIC Building, Singapore, appears to have luck on its side. On the 26th of March 2010 Sri Lanka Cricket’s Interim Committee met and were told by their Head of Marketing that the proposed local IPL proposal had met with only limited success with just one bid of US$ 75,000 having been made. The Board immediately asked their Marketing department to advertise the details on the Sri Lanka Cricket Website. Bids closed on the 3rd of May 2010. Somerset Entertainment Ventures Ltd., was incorporated on the 21st of April 2010. A mere 3 days after the bid closed, Nishantha Ranathunga as Secretary Sri Lanka Cricket, wrote to Somerset Entertainment Ventures awarding them the contract.
The Head of Sri Lanka Cricket’s Marketing, in his evaluation of the SEV bid, brought to the attention of his superiors that SEV had no experience and he suggested that SLC obtain bank guarantees against the payments promised – US$ 1,750,000 spread over 5 years. The payment was structured as US$ 300,000 in year 1 rising by 10% each year to year 5. Sri Lanka Cricket made no mention of the bank guarantees thereafter.
Significantly, Sri Lanka Cricket conferred upon a brand new, shell company, a foreign one at that, the rights for 25 years to sell on the various teams proposed for the local IPL. Why Sri Lanka Cricket felt an urge to sell away their rights to a company that was new and untested is beyond the realm of these pages. Included in these rights were the broadcast rights in terms of the local IPL.
It is entirely possible that the Indian Board with due diligence would have been aware that this company was a shell company. In that respect the Indian Board erred on the side of caution and decided that they would not allow their players to play in this competition as the player contracts were being signed off by a private company with very tenuous links to Sri Lanka Cricket; quite rightly the Indians would have been less comfortable with SEV than they would have been had Sri Lanka Cricket signed the player contracts.
However, disaster and trouble appears to have been averted for the time being. Sri Lanka Cricket has announced that the SLPL tournament has been postponed until August 2012. In that background Somerset Entertainment Ventures of Singapore have little value in the contract they signed with Sri Lanka Cricket.