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SC reserves judgment in Star-Siti HITs case

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NEW DELHI: The two-judge bench of Santosh Hegde and B P Singh today reserved a judgment on a special leave petition (SLP) filed by Star last Saturday with the Supreme Court, appealing against an order given by the MRTPC last week.

The MRTPC, petitioned by Siti Cable and ASC Enterprises, had said that till the next date of hearing on 10 September, Star, Sony and ESPN-Star Sports should continue making their signals available to the HITS platform promoted by ASC, which is part of media baron Subhash Chandra's empire.

After a marathon hearing that began before noon and lasted several hours, the judges Hegde and Singh, reserved their judgment, implying that they would write the order at a later date. Both the petitioners and the respondents expect an early direction from the apex court on the case.

However, the apex court did not give any interim relief to the petitioners, which was expected since Siti Cable-ASC Enterprise's HITS platform has already been soft-launched and is providing signals to some subscribers of Star and Sony.

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

Former finance minister and lawyer P Chidambaram represented Star, while Sony's lawyer was Ashok Desai. Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal represented Siti Cable-ASC Enterprises.

According to information available with indiantelevision.com, 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 ASC Enterprises.

Since no contractual agreement exists between ASC Enterprises and the broadcasting companies, the question of providing the channels' signals to the HITS project does not arise, the petitioners contended today at the hearing. Sibal argued that the Siti-ASC combine was executing what had been permitted by the government, and agreements existed between the channels and Siti Cable.

However, Chidambaram said, through HITS-based transmission Siti wanted to wipe out the control of the content provider over the subscriber base and was behaving as if it was the owner of the signals even when it had no agreement with Star for transmission through HITS.

Several references to CAS were also made during the hearing that lasted almost till 4 pm. It was argued that in the wake of CAS being deferred in Delhi and its future uncertain elsewhere, the HITS project has lost its relevance - a line of argument that was hotly contested by Sibal.

Sibal also contended that Star is promoting its cable company Hathaway in cable operations and therefore wanted to create a monopoly situation by denying Siti the signals of major channels. Star holds a 26 per cent stake in Hathway.

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