Television

Siti vs Star HITS case still in limbo as MRTPC postpones hearing to 27-28 October

NEW DELHI: The battle between Subhash Chandra's companies, ASC Enterprise and Siti Cable, and other broadcasters like Star India and Sony Entertainment Television (SET) hots up - even as ASC has soft-launched its direct to home (DTH) service and is preparing to implement addressability through its headend in the sky (HITS) project.

The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) today deferred a hearing on a case filed by ASC-Siti Cable against Star, Sony and ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) for refusing to make available their signals to a Zee-promoted HITS platform.

Even as the next hearing is slated for 27 and 28 October, the parties concerned are looking at the different interpretation of clause 4a of the amended cable TV (Networks) Regulation Act. The act states that all pay channels would have to be mandatorily routed through a set-top box in an CAS (conditional access system)-enabled regime.

While Chandra's companies have interpreted this as being a clause that gives them the right to carry Star, Sony and ESS' signals on their digital HITS platform, the others have a different stand on the interpretation.

According to industry sources, the lawyers of Star, Sony and ESS today sought more time from the MRTPC.

Last month, a two-judge Supreme Court bench, on being petitioned by Star Sony and ESS, had vacated an earlier order by the MRTPC. The apex court had stated that Star, Sony and ESS should continue to make available their signals to Siti's HITS platform till the Commission came to a final conclusion on the matter.

After a marathon hearing on 3 September, the bench had reserved judgment on a special leave petition (SLP) filed by Star on 30 August appealing against the MRTPC order. The SC heard initial arguments on 1 September.

Sony, which had refrained from appealing against the MRTPC order, also joined issues through an SLP on 2 September, that was clubbed with Star's and heard alongside. The decision was taken as Sony was already a respondent in the case filed by Siti -ASC.

Star and Sony's argument revolved around the fact that the MRTPC observation on creation of a monopoly is not valid as they don't have any commercial agreement with Siti-ASC on HITS.

Siti-ASC had moved the MRTPC against Star India, SET Singapore, SET India, ESPN- Star Sports and the MSO Hathway Datacom (in which Star has a 26 per cent stake) seeking prevention against trade practices that could amount to being monopolistic.

Siti-ASC's petition before the MRTPC had stated, that all other pay channels had agreed to join the HITS platform, being conscious of their obligation to achieve what the government has sought to do by the introduction of CAS in the larger public interest.

Pointing out that the respondents were attempting to stifle competition and prevent the operation of free market forces, Siti-ASC had pleaded that "appropriate orders deserved to be passed by this Hon'ble Commission".

It may be recalled that Siti has recently also moved the Delhi High Court against the government's decision to defer CAS in the capital. The Dehi HC, which had reserved its judgment on the issue, is yet to issue a final verdict.

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