Cable TV

Star-Siti HITS row case: SC vacates MRTPC stay

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MUMBAI: It is advantage Star India in its battle with Zee Group cable arm Siti Cable over making available signals to the MSO's HITS (headend in the sky) platform.

The two-judge Supreme Court bench of Santosh Hegde and BP Singh this morning vacated an order by the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) stating that Star, Sony and ESPN-Star Sports should continue to make available their signals to Siti's HITS platform till tomorrow's (10 September) crucial hearing on the issue by the commission.

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 Cable-ASC Enterprises with the MRTPC.

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 Enterprises on HITS.

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.

The SC judgment means that Siti would technically be violating Star and Sony's copyright if it continues to carry the networks' channels on its HITS platform in the absence of an agreement.

Siti Cable and another Subhash Chandra company, ASC Enterprises, had moved the MRTPC against Star India, Sony Entertainment Television Singapore Pvt Ltd, 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.

"Because the various acts/omissions of the respondents in refusing to cooperate and enter into any sort of arrangement/agreement with the complainants herein for the implementation of CAS via HITS is a monopolistic, restrictive and unfair trade practice in terms of the Monopolistic, Restrictive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, 1969," Siti cable/ASC's petition before the MRTPC had stated.

It had further said 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 with the " said acts/omissions the respondents are preventing the operation of free market forces; appropriate orders therefore deserve 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.

In the light of today's SC ruling, what decree that MRTPC issues in the matter of Siti vs Star/Sony will be closely watched.

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