Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lame, Set and Match

Lovers of life's ludic side and of the ennobling spirit of gladiatorial jousting that takes place in the sporting arena haven't had much to smile about in Indonesia of late. The country achieved its gold medal in the Olympics admittedly but apart from that it's been a pretty poor show.

I hardly know where to start with this week's querulous explosion of indignant fury but will take a stab at the football first. English Premier League fans, of which there are an awful lot in this country, have been left sitting with their collective thumbs up their backsides for a second season running while the murky machinations of standard Indonesian business practice grind to a familiar halt.

Last season, soccer enthusiasts were forced to change cable providers to the hapless Astro at the last minute (actually several minutes after the season had started). The Malaysia based company had acquired the exclusive rights to the EPL and held total sway over those wanting to enjoy Manchester United and Chelsea spend a combined total equivalent to the national debt of several African countries in their bid for glory. Astro also promptly removed all free English soccer broadcasts from Indonesia's terrestrial channels, depriving Indonesia's soccer loving masses of some free entertainment. This brought the country into line with England itself and its pay-per-view television regime tightly controlled by the jackbooted dictatorship of Rupert Murdoch from his secret volcano lair in the Pyrenees.

At least Astro had bought the EPL rights for two seasons though... or so everyone thought. It turns out however that Astro have now lost the broadcasting rights to a company called Aora, another Johnny come lately that no one has ever heard of before. Currently, with the season well under way, most people are still without their beloved football as Aora shambles out of the starting blocks two weeks after the gun has gone off.

Aora are offering cable subscribers a whopping 12 channels (be still my beating heart!) Four of which are dedicated to the Olympics (already finished) and a further two to ESPN and Stars Sport. This leaves a massive six channels of Oprah Winfrey for the ladies presumably. Still interested? Super. Rp.1.7 million and Aora's yours for the year. Oh, just one more thing, you have to transfer the Rp.1.7 million first and Aora promise to be round within three days with the decoder. There's one born every minute apparently.

Meanwhile, in a truly audacious twist of Kafka-esque late capitalist bureaucracy, Astro are requiring a Rp.400,000 fee for the cancellation of their service. I had to close the curtains and lie down in a darkened room for half an hour when I heard that one.

At least the Olympics were being screened by TVRI though. I could surely enjoy the Beijing games and the magnificent performances of the British team who did all of us Limeys proud this year couldn't I?

Alas TVRI's Olympic coverage proved to be some of the most inept broadcasting that I've ever witnessed on Indonesian TV (and that's saying something). TVRI apparently don't have the money to invest in an autocue as most of their presenters could be seen clearly reading from pieces of paper. One of the female presenters would even habitually follow the text with her index finger. However she fared better than some of her male colleagues who often appeared to lose their pieces of paper altogether and, on one occasion at least, could be seen scrabbling around looking for them whilst muttering, "Nggak ada Pak" (They're not here boss).

The editing and scheduling also beggared belief. The final few seconds of a crucial volleyball match were interrupted by several besuited TVRI types announcing that their channel was going digital. The TVRI top brass then strolled into the studio next door and shambled around aimlessly whilst the show's presenter proceeded to fawn all over them, seemingly forgetting that he was still live on air.

Other classic moments of televisual gold, among many, included 10 minutes of crowd shots without sound in the Velodrome, a five-minute impressionistic still life of an empty Taekwondo mat, the cutting away from Beijing icon Usain Bolt's 200 m semi-final in order to screen beach volleyball and the missing of the crucial concluding seconds of the water polo final in order to show the news (on which there was no sound for the first three minutes).

One feels sorry for Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan who were triumphant in scoring Indonesia's only gold medal in the badminton doubles. At least someone was making an effort. Surely after beating the Chinese and their Gulag style training regime they deserved better than this?
According to the JP only 30 fans were there to meet the returning shuttlers at the airport. They were probably outnumbered by Kido and Setaiwan’s coaches and entourage. TVRI are largely responsible for this I believe. Anyhoo, I'm off to play tiddly-winks. I'll be back with another bronze medal winning tirade next week.