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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
The politics of World Cup-watching
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring

Satellite dishes cover roofs of shacks in the Sidi Moumen slum of Casablanca
Some broadcasters have been priced out of the World Cup

A cumulative television audience of more than 32 billion is expected to have watched the 64 World Cup matches on TV or other media by the time the final is played on Sunday 9 July.

In a few countries, people are looking forward to watching the contest on television for the first time.

The politics behind securing access to the broadcasts, and the difficulties people in some countries face in watching them, closely follow some of the world's current geopolitical fault lines.

In North Korea, state TV began broadcasting World Cup matches supplied by satellite free of charge by South Korea three days after the opening game.

The broadcasts screened in the North were reportedly pre-recorded and edited versions, broadcast terrestrially and were expected to include games involving South Korea, who played their opening game against Togo on 13 June.

In Afghanistan, television broadcasts were banned during Taleban rule from 1996-2001. But this year several Afghan TV stations were planning to screen World Cup matches live

"Now that North Koreans can watch the South Koreans in the tournament, we hope it will contribute to recovering our identity as one people," said a statement by the (South) Korean Central Broadcasting Commission.

The deal has the approval of FIFA and the Switzerland-based Infront Sport and Media, FIFA's business representative for the sales of broadcast rights.

Although the South and the North remain technically at war since the 1950-1953 conflict in the Korean peninsula, relations have improved since a summit their leaders held in 2000.

During the 2002 World Cup staged in South Korea and Japan, Seoul sent videotapes to North Korea a day or two after the games, and during the 2004 Athens Olympics it offered the North a live feed of major events.

'Political move'

In Indonesia, meanwhile, former President Suharto's daughter Titiek appeared on private television channel SCTV on World Cup opening night as a football pundit and presenter of the Germany-Costa Rica game, prompting complaints that the Suharto clan was hijacking the world's biggest sporting event to polish up its tarnished image.

"Technically speaking, she is not someone who knows a lot about football," said Ade Armando of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, adding that the move was politically provocative.

Nor was Titiek's on-screen appearance likely to attract many viewers, he ventured.

A spokesman for SCTV defended Titiek's appearance, saying it was meant to expand the channel's audience.

"As for Titiek, she has to improve her skill as a presenter," he conceded.

Bleak prospects

In Afghanistan, television broadcasts were banned during Taleban rule from 1996-2001. But this year several Afghan TV stations were planning to screen World Cup matches live.

Shop owner watches television in Tunisia
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The Taleban not only banned television but initially outlawed football.

Later they lifted the ban, but insisted that players' arms and legs were covered, ordered them to stop for prayers during matches, and banned supporters from cheering.

An official of Tolo TV, Afghanistan's leading private channel, told China's official news agency Xinhua that his station, as well as national Afghan TV and another commercial channel, would show some key matches live.

In the capital of Somalia, the advent to power of an Islamist militia early in June evoked echoes of the Taleban's arrival in Kabul in 1996. The prospects for football fans wanting to watch the World Cup in the capital looked bleak.

In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has intervened personally to make sure the games are made available on state television.

Residents in Mogadishu complained that the militia that seized control of most of the city from rival warlords earlier this month were preventing civilians from seeing television pictures of the World Cup.

The residents said Islamist militiamen had been forcing makeshift public cinemas planning to show satellite TV footage of the matches to close down.

The BBC's Africa editor David Bamford says the World Cup screenings were not necessarily the main target of the militia's wrath.

"It's not clear whether the new Islamist rulers in the city have a problem with people watching football.

"Their spokesman, Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, indicated to the BBC that it's the cinemas that are being targeted because they also showed Western and Indian films that the Islamists say are corrupting the youth," Bamford said.

On 12 June, AFP news agency reported that two people had been killed as gunmen, reportedly allied to the Joint Islamic Courts, forced three cinemas to shut and warned football fans against watching the matches which were being relayed via satellite.

Priced out

On a lighter note, as South Korea and Togo took to the field in Frankfurt for their Group G opener on Tuesday afternoon, the debacle over Togo's coach Otto Pfister - who quit the team only to change his mind and appear on the bench for their opening game - was overtaken by a public relations faux pas.

Togo's national anthem was mistaken for South Korea's, and the South's anthem was played twice before embarrassed FIFA organisers belatedly found the right tune.

In several Middle East countries, this will be the first World Cup that most football fans will not be able to watch free on national television channels.

The pan-Arab pay-TV broadcaster Arab Radio and Television (ART) has bought the rights to the games in the Middle East and North Africa.

But its channels can only be accessed through a special decoder costing between US$130-400 - beyond the reach of the average viewer.

Many Arab governments have taken steps to ensure that their poorer citizens still have access to World Cup matches.

"Governments are scrambling as if it's an issue of national security," said a report from the Associated Press.

In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has intervened personally to make sure the games are made available on state television. In Egypt and Jordan, the authorities are arranging for large communal TV screens to be set up in public places.

In Africa's poorest countries, national budgets do not stretch far enough to pay for TV access, BBC correspondents note. But many fans will be able to watch the games on satellite TV in cafes and restaurants instead.

Another option for impoverished World Cup fans is to access the TV signals illegally - although many expert satellite pirates have reportedly been unable to decode the World Cup signal.

Should the hackers succeed, analysts say the total losses due to signal piracy in the developing world could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.






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