Millions of cricket fans in the country may get to see India’s first World Cup match against traditional rivals Pakistan Feb 15 free of cost as the Supreme Court Tuesday stayed the Delhi High Court order that barred public broadcaster Doordarshan from sharing the live feed of the cricket World Cup matches with the cable operators, provided to it by Star TV.
Doordarshan will be provided the live feed of the matches by Star which holds exclusive telecasting rights for the World Cup, starting Feb 14. Doordarshan in turn reaches its viewers through cable operators.
At the outset of the hearing, the apex court bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose issued notice on the plea by the Centre and the Prasar Bharati and stayed the order of the High Court.
The court gave seven weeks to Star and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for submitting their response to the plea by the Centre and Prasar Bharati.
However, the court Tuesday said that it would hear the matter Feb 17 for the interim relief sought by Star, which was present in the hearing as a caveator, represented by a battery of senior lawyers led by P. Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid.
“We are continuing the situation prevailing from 2007. We are continuing. It needs hearing,” Justice Gogoi said as senior counsel P. Chidambaram appearing for Star addressed the court. Star had filed a caveat before the apex court.
“You waited for the High Court verdict for seven years, we are issuing a notice whose response has to be submitted in seven weeks,” Justice Gogoi said as Chidambaram told the court “the matter was pending before the High Court since 2007”.
“We have suffered financially. It is just a coincidence that the (Delhi High Court) judgment has come with the judgment ahead of the commencement of the World Cup, the court said as Chidambaram pleaded his client would suffer a huge financial loss.
“World Cup will come and go. Money is not important,” the court observed as Chidambaram said, “We will lose money.”
Pressing the point of financial loss that Star was suffering on account of Doordarshan routing its live feed with cable operators, Chidambaram told the court that a subscriber had just to pay Rs.18 to view all the Cup matches.
The court was told that Star got the exclusive telecasting rights for six years from 2012 to 2018 by paying Rs.3,851 crore and in the last three years it has not got any returns on its investment.
“Should not the balance of equity be in our favour” after Star has succeeded in the High Court and yet “We don’t get anything”, Chidambaram told the court.
Having said this, Chidambaram urged the court to consider some of the proposals they have for the court as an interim arrangement.
Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for the BCCI, said “We are not saying that everything should be on our side.”
At this stage, the court agreed to hold a hearing for an interim relief sought by Star and asked its counsel to submit its proposals for consideration on Feb 17.
However, attempt by Sibal to advance the hearing by holding it Friday (Feb 13) was opposed by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi who told the court that let the people watch first match between India and Pakistan Feb 15.
On a submission by Rohatgi, the court said that Star would give its proposals for the court to consider two days before the hearing.
The petition by the Centre and Prasar Bharati filed by advocates Rajeev Sharma and Shahil Bhalik said that under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 it is incumbent upon the holders of the telecasting rights of the sporting events of national importance to share the live feed (of sporting event) with Prasar Bharati.
Prasar Bharati would carry this live feed on its terrestrial channels DD National and DD News and Direct to Home service.
On the other hand, under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, it is mandatory for the cable operators to carry DD National and DD News.
The petition by the Prasar Bharati and the Centre said that High Court order asking the public broadcaster not to carry the live feed of cricket matches received by it on DD National and DD News would result in denied access of a sporting event of national importance to millions of people.(IANS)