Television

No rights for third party: HC to BCCI

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MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: The Bombay High Court today asked the Indian cricket board to maintain "status quo" and make a firm commitment that it would not award the contract for telecast rights to any third party until it decides on the legal dispute between Zee Telefilms Ltd and ESPN Star Sports.



In its response, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) stated it was unable to make such a commitment. It argued that with the Australian cricket team due to land in India on 6 October to play a four test series, and in keeping with International Cricket Council (ICC) rules, the series would perforce have to be telecast. Otherwise there would be a breach of condition of affiliation with the ICC, BCCI's counsel contended, adding that the cricket matches have to be recorded for the benefit of the third umpire as well.



Chief Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud had given the direction to BCCI this morning after the board's counsel, in his opening statement, told the court that although Zee had won the bid, the contract had not yet been awarded to it.



It was in view of this statement that the court ordered the BCCI to maintain status quo. Both ESPN-Star Sports and Zee Telefilms urged the court to direct the Indian cricket board to give a firm commitment that it would not give the contract to any third party unless the telecast rights dispute was settled, a report filed by the Press Trust of India says.



MATTER OF RIGHTS



The counsel for both parties pointed to reports in the media wherein BCCI supreme (and lately made patron-in-chief) Jagmohan Dalmiya is quoted as having said that in the event of the case dragging on, the board may consider giving the rights to pubcaster Prasar Bharati or make some alternative arrangements for telecast of the Australia series.



The judges said they would hear the arguments of both sides tomorrow on the petition filed by ESS challenging BCCI's decision to award the $ 308 million contract to Zee for telecast rights of cricket matches to be played between October 2004 and September 2008.



As regards the case itself, sources close to the developments say that there would be some 'dramatic revelations' made by Zee when the case comes up for hearing on the morrow.



Zee, yesterday filed an affidavit in the High Court saying that its board of directors was not agreeable to a suggestion put by the division bench for re-bidding.



Contacted by indiantelevision.com this evening, Dalmiya refused to make any comments on the court observation, but added that the working committee of the BCCI would be meeting tomorrow to take stock of the situation.



IS ESPN SOFTWARE INDIA RELATED TO ESPN-STAR SPORTS?



Meanwhile, some digging by indiantelevision.com has revealed interesting facts in the run-up to Zee bagging the rights and subsequently ESS contesting BCCI's decision.



From the documents filed in the court, along with an affidavit, the communication dated 6.9.2004 of PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) was allegedly pursuant to a request made by ESS letter dated 6.9.2004. ESS has stated that it has made inquiries with PwC and were categorically informed that the latter only tabulated the bids received and was not required to examine the fulfillment of requirements of condition No 2 by the tenderers.



Interestingly, clause 3.8(a) of the tender document clearly required that the bids were to be finally examined by PwC as to whether the tenderers fulfill the requirements of condition No. 2 of the tender document and only those tenderers whose bid were found to be in due compliance were to be the "qualified tenderers."



It was also pointed out that both these letters are dated 06.09.2004 and that ESS also filed the writ petition on the same day when these two letters were not a part of the original writ petition.



The letters seem to have been exchanged by ESPN Software India Limited, Building No. 22, Pushp Vihar Community Centre, New Delhi, which seems to be a company having no concern with this cricket tender process or with the writ petition before the court.



A point to be noted is that the petitioner is ESPN Star Sports (not ESPN India) and it has stated in the court that it's a registered general partnership under the laws of the US. The petitioner has also said it has a branch office in Singapore by the name of ESPN Star Sports, which is engaged in production and telecasting of sports channels, ESPN and Star Sports in various South Asian countries, including India.



The petitioner doesn't have any office/operations in India, it has been stated in the court. The present petition is filed through one Vijay Rajput, who has been duly authorised to do all things necessary for the present petition.



Several attempts made by indiantelevision.com to elicit a response from ESPN Software India on the matter proved futile today.



Another interesting fact that has come to light is that though PwC did not charge any remuneration from the BCCI for opening the sealed cricket tender bids and other professional services rendered, the audit firm, respondent No.4 in the writ petition, is the global chartered accountant firm for Disney, the parent company of ESPN. As per the Disney website, the total fees paid by Disney to PwC for rendering professional services in the last one year was approximately $ 25 million.

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