English Premier League signs multi-million dollar TV deal in Burma | Connect Asia

English Premier League signs multi-million dollar TV deal in Burma

English Premier League signs multi-million dollar TV deal in Burma

Updated 29 November 2012, 14:46 AEDT

The English Premier League is set to profit from the easing of trade sanctions with Burma by agreeing to a three-year television rights deal.

The rights have been bought by locally-owned SkyNet, the biggest PAY TV company in Burma, for around $US 40 million.

But in a country where the average worker earns around $1,300 a year, there is much scepticism about who exactly stands to gain from this deal.

Correspondent: Del Irani

Speakers: Professor Sean Turnell, Professor of Economics, Macquarie University; Zetty Brake, Campaign Co-ordinator, Burma Campaign Australia; Aung Zaw, founding editor, Irrawaddy magazine

SFX: Football match, commentary, fans cheering

IRANI: Football fever is about to take Burma by storm.

And perhaps none are more excited than the hundreds of thousands of football fans in the country.

It's something that Professor Sean Turnell from Macquarie University has noticed as well.

TURNELL: You can go to the remotest corner of the country, the most isolated village and wherever there is electricity you are likely to see a tea shop, or a drinking establishment or a restaurant with a TV playing a match.

IRANI: Burma's population is about 55 million people and Professor Turnell estimates that at least a few million people will be watching the games.

According to him, the deal makes good economic sense.

TURNELL: In terms of world soccer, the amount paid for the rights, a few hundred thousand pounds, would be enough to deliver a return because even against a poor audience, local television channels would be able to sell some advertising.

IRANI: But there is a sharp financial disparity between the amount paid for the rights and the income of the people watching the games.

TURNELL: The majority of people who would be watching the matches would be extremely poor. And they would watch the match at some sort of public place, it wouldn't be at home. The average person in Burma really cannot afford a television set and in any case, even if they could, the national electricity supply is so poor they really wouldn't be able to power it up in any case.

IRANI: This tragic contradiction is also pointed out by Zetty Brake.

She is the campaign co-ordinator at Burma Campaign Australia and says Burma has its priorities all wrong.

BRAKE: For million dollars to be invested in televising football to a country that doesn't have continuous electricity supply, it doesn't have water, it doesn't have basic education and healthcare. It definitely is something that is not necessarily a priority for the people of Burma, whilst I'm sure it is very entertaining and enjoyable.

IRANI: It's the entertainment factor that Zetty Brake says distracts from the real issues taking place in Burma.

BRAKE: We need to be realistic about what is going on in Burma. You still have mass conflict which is leading people to be displaced from their home. You still have forced labour and people in Kachin state have been used as human shields by the army. The army is continuing to attack civilians, rape and other sexual violences widespread across the country and these things are occurring with impunity.

IRANI: The company that has bought the rights to the English Premier League games is Burma's biggest pay TV channel, SkyNet.

Mr. Aung Zaw is the founding editor of Irrawaddy magazine. He's familiar with SkyNet and says the decision to promote sports over hard news, is typical of the broadcaster.

ZAW: If you look at the content of all Skynet, this violence in Rakhine state, Kachin state, all these areas are very lightly covered. They are totally ignored. But sports and entertainment news are heavily promoted.

IRANI: Perhaps one reason for this is because sports and entertainment are also the biggest cash cows and Mr. Zaw says, those at the top will benefit.

ZAW: The media companies are owned by oligarchies and military people and those who are associated with the military, so I think they are the ones who are going to benefit from all the profits.

IRANI: Professor Turnell agrees, adding that this gap between the rich and poor is only going to become even more obvious over time.

TURNELL: This opening up of Burma is a very dichotomised story. It is a story where some people are making a lot of money out of it and being greatly advantaged by it, but it is also a story of many other people are being left behind.

IRANI: And as that story unfolds, the signing of this sports deal is a significant chapter.

It's a deal that would not have been possible a couple of years ago and according to Professor Turnell, is a deeply symbolic move.

TURNELL: I think most people can understand that this is not some the most visible, it really has importance, I think, in that sense.

obscure business deal, this is very much a business deal with a public focus. So its emblematic I think of the changes, emblematic too of the international response to those changes and sport, being I guess the most global of industries around, certainly

IRANI: Its importance is not lost on the millions of football fans in Burma.

While most of them won't be able to enjoy the spoils of their favourite English Premier League games in the comfort of their own home.

The fact is, this multi-million dollar deal, will allow them to watch international football in their own country.

And some may consider that - a victory.

SFX: Football match sounds, cheering, celebrations.

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