The BCCI and the Right to Information Act

I don’t normally pick fights with other cricket bloggers, and I don’t mean to start one with Kartikeya (over at A Cricketing View). From the rules of the game to the innards of cricket administration, this guy knows his stuff and he’s far better at finding details than I am. But his latest effort, which critiques an apparently inaccurate Times of India article on the BCCI, reaches some conclusions that are a bit too dangerous. Let’s do this:

Kartikeya is angry that the Times of India continue to peddle the conflict-of-interest angle on Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shashtri. He doesn’t think anybody has looked at the BCCI contract properly, and he backs up his claim with some interesting evidence. So far, so good. But then, he goes to a dark place:

Can you imagine the havoc that journalists with the standards of Pradhan and Narayanan could wreak if they were able to use the power of the Right To Information Act? The two have demonstrated a total inability to be fair to the subject of their story. This must surely be the first rule in any inquiry. […]

I will support bringing the BCCI under the RTI if Bennett, Coleman and Co. and The Times Group can also be brought under it. In general I think private corporations (both for-profit and non-profit) need to be scrutinized a great deal more than they currently are. I will support bringing BCCI under the RTI if Sport Pages (which are about entertainment as much as they are about news) and Gossip Pages of newspapers are no longer considered to be “journalism”, in the sense that political current affairs reportage is considered to be journalism.

The charitable view of this line of reasoning is that Kartikeya is annoyed other people — that is, professionals paid to do this kind of work — can’t match his own research. And I completely agree with the sentiment; God knows I have plenty of axes to grind when it comes to the Times. That being said, however, the burden of proof when it comes to information and transparency lies with public bodies that use public funds, not on how private citizens will use the information. This is a basic point, but one that’s often lost even in “advanced” democracies like the United States. As a former reporter here, I can’t tell you how often town clerks would ask me why I asked for public documents, even though the reasoning behind a citizen’s request has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not information should be released.

So, a word of advice to Kartikeya: Critique sports journalism all you want and make sure they get the facts straight. But private corporations don’t have as high a burden as public ones do (I can’t even imagine bringing corporations under RTI, since that would mean business and trade secrets would be open to competitors), and whether or not the BCCI is transparent shouldn’t be dependent on how others act. Also: lay off the gossip pages. I like ’em.

 

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “The BCCI and the Right to Information Act

  1. Homer says:

    “the burden of proof when it comes to information and transparency lies with public bodies that use public funds” – last checked, the BCCI was a private trust that took no handouts from the Government of India.

    Cheers,

    • Homer, your continued love for the BCCI and its operation never ceases to astound me. But I suppose every billion-dollar business needs its allies. So keep fighting the good fight!

      (Oh, and on that whole ‘private trust’ thing — the Delhi High Court ruled that the BCCI is at least partially pub lic. To wit:

      “The BCCI which is the sole repository of everything cricket in India has attained this “giant” stature through its organisation, skill, the craze for the game in India and last but not the least by the tacit approval of the Government. Its objects are the functions and duties it has arrogated to itself. Many of these are in the nature of public duties and functions….”)

      • Homer says:

        The BCCI is incidental to this. If the BCCI is included under the purview of the RTI act, so should educational institutions, a far bigger racket if there was one. But since educational institutions are exempt, I believe the BCCI is being unfairly targeted.

        Cheers,

    • duckingbeamers says:

      You’ve gone from saying BCCI is a “private trust,” to arguing that the BCCI is “incidental” to this argument. No can do, Homer — you cannot refer to other bad behavior (educational institutions) as a justification for the BCCI’s. I grant you, in an ideal world, a perfect regulatory system would be in place, one that oversaw both BCCI and educational institutions, but if Parliament looked only to oversee one, that wouldn’t meet the bar of “unfairly targeting” anything.

      • Homer says:

        The BCCI is a private trust. As are a multitude of educational institutions that enjoy the same tax breaks and government patronage that the BCCI is accused of getting. If the BCCI is to be brought under the RTI, why should this be limited to the BCCI alone?

        if the counter argument is that sauce for the goose shouldnt be the same for the gander, then its a world view I dont share.

        Cheers,

      • duckingbeamers says:

        Homer,
        No one was talking about the educational institutions — I don’t even know a thing about the subject. I’m talking about the BCCI and the regulation of cricket.

        But fine, yes, sure, add the educational institutions to the list as well. I’m not sure how this changes anything in our debate about cricket though. While we’re at it, let’s regulate geese as well, and whatever sauces they stew in too. OK?

        Best,
        DB

  2. Jonathan says:

    Homer, while it’s very clear that Kartikeya’s point was being made in the context of BCCI as a private body, I think the points here are that Kartikeya is to some extent happy to remove that distinction, and the argument made in the first paragraph that duckingbeamers quotes could just as easily be made in a different context.

    That para, and the following comments on journalism, are fine as an admonishment of the reporters in question, but if the conclusion is taken literally, it is arguing against the principles of the RTI Act. Shoddy journalism isn’t restricted to sports and gossip pages, but all citizens are still in theory given access to information from public bodies.

    Better journalism isn’t just about matching Kartikeya in finding details, though – it’s about caring about the detail even when you haven’t got it. If not having the detail is the problem then RTI/FOI/GIPA/whatever-your-govt-wants-to-call-it-tomorrow might actually help, but so might the clerk knowing what else you might be interested in. None of that is any good if the journo is happy to simplistically take whatever they have found (although at least with RTI someone else, even a blogger, can go after the same details.)

    (As for trade secrets, etc. – public bodies can have those too, and they are usually still protected. Not sure what bringing private bodies into the scope fo RTI would look like, but I doubt it would be a problem in that direction.)

    • I’m not sure public bodies can have secrets, Jonathan. Which is the point. (Unless you mean publicly owned companies, like VSNL or MTNL, or exemptions for national security and the like.) But even if you cover this technical point, there is a broader principle — private corporations are entitled to privacy.

      Kartikeya probably meant something else, though — something like, “Corporations should be examined more closely in general.” And on this front, I don’t disagree. Here in the U.S., there have been articles looking at how profitable companies pay little to no taxes because of loopholes in the code. Others have pointed to corporate donations to politicians (again, legally done), while others have looked at odious lobbying.

  3. I think private corporations should be subject to scrutiny just like public corporations. If the RTI is applied exclusively to BCCI (instead of applying it to a class of private organizations, like for example the Cricket Club of India or the Bombay Gymkhana) then this would be a punitive act, and would set an extremely dangerous precedent.

    As I’ve written in the article, I think greater scrutiny is welcome – both in the public and private corporate realms. But, if such scrutiny is to be on the books, then professional journalism has to be serious as well, and has to live up to certain basic standards as well. In this instance it has not.

    Also, I don’t for a moment buy the proposition that the corporate media (which now spends the majority of its time reporting on sport, entertainment, fashion, gossip and more broadly popular culture, simply because this is the easiest way to garner viewership) be granted the same status as the newsroom of major national broadsheets or other venues of serious investigative journalism.

    Finally, my precise point was that I didn’t have to dig too deep to figure out that Pradhan and Narayanan’s story was dubious. All I had to do was read a couple of stories published in the Times Of India.

    Jonathan is right, it is about caring about the facts, and it is about caring enough to be fair. This, unfortunately, currently exists in direct conflict with the need to compete for viewership.

    Maybe privately funded, for-profit organizations do not make the best model for serious journalism.

    • Jonathan says:

      K, that sort of misses the point that these laws aren’t there simply to provide scrutiny from serious investigative journalists, but on the basis that a large amount of government information should be available to all the public, journalists serious or otherwise, bloggers or even individuals who aren’t going to publish or even repeat it.

      Given the nature of some of the exceptions (yes, I am a state owned corp employee, so I was including such bodies, although more generally there are commercial confidence exceptions to protect third parties at the very least), I don’t really see how the could meaningfully cover private corporations without seriously changing its nature. The sorts of examples duckingbeamers refers are particularly about how corporations interact with government, and can be approached from other angles.

      Encouraging decent journalism is another matter altogether.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Karitikeya,

      Thanks for the comment, but really, I don’t see how you can justify calling for an equal level of scrutiny for private corporations and public bodies. That goes against a fundamental principle in democratic theory; namely, public bodies rely on public funds, and are therefore held to a higher standard. Private corporations rely on private citzens’ efforts (and funds), and also entitled to privacy (from the overarching powers of the state and the public square). Calling for a RTI to apply to corporations makes little sense — corporations that aren’t, say, publicly funded are not required to disclose profit margins or investment decisions and so on.

      Unless, as J says below, you are talking about the interactions these companies have with public interests and public bodies (like taxes, or lobbying, or contracts). Then I understand the need for more scrutiny.

  4. It has nothing to do with democracy, it has to do with capitalism.

    Corporations may use private money (even though most, if not all of them benefit directly from one form of government subsidy or another, and exist in markets created for them by the government, often after serious lobbying activity), but they use public resources.

    The power of the government and the public square is held accountable to elections and an adversarial system in the legislature. What are the curbs on the power of private corporations?

    This is especially interesting in the case of corporate media organizations, which are no longer part of the “fourth estate” as Burke called it, but are (with rare exceptions), entertainment companies that report the news as a minor aside.

    Name one business of any size, anywhere in the world, that does not have something to do with the public interest…

    The public v private distinction is one created for the interests of private capital, not democracy.

  5. Jonathan,
    I agree that the Right to Information Act is a good thing. And it is intended, as you say, for citizens to have access to records of the government’s practices.

    If there were a way to empower private citizens but curb the interests of private corporations (for example, by allowing the RTI to be used only in non-profit settings), and be applied to private corporations as well as government, then I would support extending it to private organizations like BCCI or CCI or the Bombay Gymkhana.

    Otherwise, its just another racket. And scrutiny is far too serious a thing to be turned into a racket.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Kartikeya,
      We’re drifting a bit far from the original purpose of this discussion, but I still am fairly shocked by the extent to which you’re willing to excuse the BCCI by pointing to bad behavior committed by other segments of Indian society. Let’s deal with your two arguments separately:

      1. Corporate media outlets aren’t doing a completely good job, but I can’t say they’re doing a completely bad one either. The press does a range of things — publish gossip, yes, but also keep politicians honest by constantly asking hard questions (in theory, anyway). You can’t judge Indian media by the Times of India alone.

      2. But say that you could, and you did, and found the Indian media wanting. So what? You say you’re only willing to extend the RTI to the BCCI if private citizens are allowed to “curb the interests of private corporations.” But this is a nonsensical stance — for one thing, a major reason people want to extend the RTI to the BCCI is that the cricket agency has come to resemble a private corporation, except one backed by state patronage and monopoly.

      For another thing, it’s dangerous logic: you could point to any other negative aspect of Indian society (the huge inequality, for example) and then say, “Until we reduce inequality, I won’t extend the RTI to the BCCI.” These are two separate issues; one shouldn’t be held hostage to the other. The cumulative effect of your argument is basically paralysis. Nothing will get done.

      Furthermore, does the BCCI need all that much protection from the corporate media? The last time I checked — and I could be wrong on this –but the BCCI had access to millions of dollars in funds; it has admitted to falsely filing income taxes; it has generally treated the Indian media in an unbelievably haughty manner (though, again, perhaps justifiably so). For you to pit a hapless BCCI against dangerous, terrible private corporations ignores reality.

      Finally, it’s not “just a racket.” For every crap article in the Times of India — which, by the way, was done without using the RTI — there are plenty of others who use the law to achieve good ends (I’d like to see, for example, what Rahul Mehra can do with the statute). And what happens when the RTI is used for “bad speech”? Well, the way it works in functioning democracies is that bloggers and journalists like you counter with “good speech” and win in the marketplace of ideas.

      So, drop the anti-RTI stance, because you’re only shielding one giant ‘private corporation’ from transparency. Thanks!

      • Mkd says:

        You are sort of forgetting the point that The Press and Private Corporations have a much greater impact ( both positive and negative ) on Indian life etc,etc… than the BCCI, which in the end is just an organization organizing a game. I think that s what Kartikeya is trying to say.

      • duckingbeamers says:

        Mkd,
        Thanks for the comment, but, again, I’d have to disagree. First, the press and the private corporations may have a greater impact — though given the enormity of the Indian state and its many, many public sector holdings, I’d like to see data on the front — but that’s all irrelevant to the question at hand. We can regulate the private sector through a variety of means — libel laws for the press, for example, or taxation and regulatory codes for private corporations — but that doesn’t take away from our need to make sure public bodies, which use public funds and are answerable to the people, are as transparent, open and efficient as possible.

        If, for example, the CEO of a private company was found to be misappropriating his company’s funds, he would have to answer to his stockholders, his board of trustees and perhaps even the law (if a criminal statute has been violated). That’s it. But if the head of a public body — a minister, for example — was accused of corruption, or hiding information, that’s a serious matter that goes to the heart of the rule of law and governance.

        Secondly, the BCCI is not in the end “just an organization organizing a game.” The BCCI is a billion-dollar organization that organizes one of the biggest industries in India, namely the game of cricket. There’s deals to be made with television broadcasters, sponsors, land leases for stadiums, protection and security from the police for big matches, and so on. There’s also the fact that many state cricket associations are led by ministers, making a mockery of the public-private debate.

  6. Samir Chopra says:

    No funding increases for breast cancer till prostate cancer is also treated! They are both diseases; they both have to be treated.

    No First Amendment rights for the citizenry of the US unless everyone in the world enjoys free speech rights! Everyone should enjoy free speech rights.

    No public criticism of smoking till alcohol consumption is also criticized! They are both drugs after all.

  7. Cricblogger says:

    I agree with DuckingBeamers. BCCI is controlling the country’s most popular game. It also happens to be a Multi-million dollar industry. Transparency and information sharing can only bring betterment.

  8. […] more on the first problem, see my previous post. There’s a question about whether or not the BCCI is a private entity — and therefore […]

  9. […] sorry to continue writing about the BCCI; cricket administration isn’t my forte (nor is it a major theme of this blog). But […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: