SAB TV counsel Ram Jethmalani questions ESS' eligibility

MUMBAI: Talk about tables being turned through an unexpected corner! This afternoon in the Bombay High Court, Zee Telefilms found an ally in its fight against ESPN Star Sports (ESS) regarding the rights to India cricket in Sab TV.

Sab TV took up cudgels for Zee through its counsel and noted jurist Ram Jethmalani. Speaking on behalf of the free to air broadcaster Jethmalani turned ESS' eligibility claims against the sports broadcaster.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

Jethmalani highlighted the fact that if a consortium was bidding for the rights then details about the composition of the parties had to be disclosed as per the tender document. "ESPN Star Sports has stated that it is a joint venture through subsidiaries. Does anybody know who these subsidiaries are? Are they eligible to bid? There are a host of undisclosed people whose qualifications are unknown."

He also said that as per the tender, the BCCI reserved the sole right to reject or accept bids. "It has this unfettered right to negotiate with any of the bidders. They (ESS) take advantage of every breach in the law. Then they later argue about having been outbidded. Also when you talk of ESS you are talking about a company that does not pay taxes in India." By this Jethmalani implied that they had no right to take recourse under the Indian constitution and demand equality.

On its part the ESS counsel argued that there was nothing in writing about Zee submitting a bid of $308 million. "We had submitted an alternative bid of $308 million for five years. We were not asked for our best bid. We were simply told by Mr (BCCI supremo Jagmohan) Dalmiya to reduce the time period from five to four years. Then the bid is yours. The written bid of Zee is for $281 million."

"Also through correspondence on 30 July, the BCCI had told PwC about their limited role in merely tabulating the bids well before the tender process was open. Despite that the BCCI mentioned in the tender that PwC would examine the bids for eligibility. In fact PwC did not charge a fee due to their limited role and in the interests (sic) of cricket."

The counsel argued that by giving the bid to Zee, the BCCI had changed its stance about the production issue. It merely waited to see who had the most money and then prayed that the concerned party would do a good job. He added that Zee themselves had stated that they had been approached by four production houses. "The tender process specifically looked at weeding out a party that would rely on outside help for production. In India we have 35 qualified people as a part of our production unit. We also have four non linear editing suites."

He also argued that the BCCI affidavit that ESS was ineligible on the production front did not hold water. "We have our own production team. It stands to reason, however, that we would not personally own every piece of equipment. It does not make sense for us to carry it around form one country to the other. We basically hire it from local companies. The packaging and presentation is all done by us."

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