SC Stays HC Order on DD Seeking WC Broadcasting Rights

New Delhi

Supreme Court today stayed the Delhi High Court judgement barring Prasar Bharati from sharing with cable operators through Doordarshan (DD) channels the live feed of the 2015 Cricket World Cup on which ESPN and Star have exclusive broadcasting rights.

"The order of the High Court shall remain suspended," a bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose said in its interim order and posted the hearing on February 17 while asking the private channels and BCCI to come with their proposals to resolve the dispute.

The apex court, which issued notices to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Star India Ltd, said the issue deserved to be heard in detail.

However, senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for Star India, said the matter required urgent hearing as the Cricket World Cup 2015 is scheduled to start from February 14.

"World Cup is commencing from February 14. Huge assets are at stake. We have got a judgement in favour from HC. My only request to this court is to balance the equities after hearing. In the wake of stay, we will not be able to earn Rs 18 per subscriber," Chidambaram said.

He also questioned Doordarshan's stand as to "why it wants to give feed to other operators".

His submission was shared by other two senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid, who were also appearing for the BCCI and private broadcasters.

The bench said it was only inclined to issue notice and stay the high court order by fixing the matter for hearing after six or seven weeks.

"The position of 2007, we are maintaining it for a while. We thought there is something to hear. We will not bring about a situation abruptly. This arrangement under which DD shows free feed has been there for the last seven years. Let it continue," the bench said.

While the observation was made by the bench, Chidambaram said staying of the judgement would make them suffer further in monetary terms as the world cup commences four days later.

However, the bench shot back that "for seven years it was like this and in another seven weeks nothing would happen".

"World Cups come and go. This will not be the last World Cup. But the judgement delivered by this court will last forever. Whatever money is lost can be earned. We will hear you," the bench said, adding that "it is a coincidence that the judgement has come at the time of world cup".

Attorney General Mukul Rohatagi, who was not required to open the submission, concurred with the bench's observations.

"We will hear the interim matter on Tuesday next on February 17," the bench said.

Earlier, public broadcaster Prasar Bharti had moved the Supreme Court challenging the Delhi High Court judgement barring it from sharing with cable operators through DD channels the live feed of the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

The Attorney General had then said the High Court verdict was not only against the mandates of the Sports Act and Cable TV Network Act but was also contrary to public interest.

Among the grounds taken in the petition, it was argued that it was mandatory under laws for the private channels to share the feeds with Prasar Bharati for providing it on DD's free-to-air terrestrial channels, AG had said.

The appeal was made against the February 4 judgement of the High Court which was passed on the plea of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), ESPN and Star. They had contended that cable operators were getting live feed free through DD channels, resulting in loss of revenue for them.

The High Court had also observed that while advertisement revenue received by DD in respect of the shared content of the sports channels was to be shared in the ratio of not less than 75:25, "it still does not cater to the loss of subscription revenue" by ESPN and Star.

It had, however, rejected their additional prayers to strike down section 3 of the Sports Act, which makes it mandatory for them to share with Prasar Bharati the live feed of sporting events of national importance.

It had also refused to grant relief of striking down a year 2000 notification issued by Prasar Bharati which made it mandatory for cable operators to carry DD National and DD News channels.

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