MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court has adjourned hearing in the much-contested BCCI cricket telecast rights case to Monday after Zee Telefilms exhaustively put forward its argument.
Arguing before a two-judge Bench of Chief Justice DS Bhandari and Justice DY Chandrachud, Zee's counsel Harish Salve argued that ESPN has not produced a clean signal of live cricket matches completely in-house. Neither the West Indies-India series nor the South Africa-India and England matches were exclusively produced by ESPN. It was only in the Asia Cup that the production was done in-house.
Zee raised the point that ESPN had sidelined the consortium clause and was creating confusion over production facilities. The hawk eye camera and other facilities belonged to proprietary companies and neither to ESPN or to Zee. Today to produce the match for telecasting, cameras are planted. All of us rent out those facilities. It is only a question of how much each of us do, Salve argued.
ESPN had been showing cricket in India so far. Zee has a presence in 88 countries and has been showing cricket when India plays overseas. If BCCI is entertaining Zee today, the board obviously considers us eligible, said Salve.
Justice Chandrachud then queried Salve on whether the company had experience in TV production of cricket matches as Zee had mentioned telecast but no production experience in its bid for the BCCI rights. Salve admitted that Zee had never produced clean signals. But neither ESPN nor Zee have produced clean signals for two years, the counsel said.
The court then observed, "If we strictly stick to your line of argument then both the parties (Zee and ESS) would be ineligible."
Responding to the court's observation, Salve, while agreeing with the point made by the bench, drew attention to the fact that none of the parties, and that includes Prasar Bharti, would "strictly speaking" be eligible to get the telecast rights as all were merely licensees and hire production units to telecast matches.
Moving on to another issue, Salve pointed out that PriceWaterhouse Coopers, which had been assigned the task of vetting the bids, was the global auditor of ESPN and had a conflict of interest. PwC had not sent any reply to Zee on its inquiries. But ESPN had got a response from PwC in a letter on September 6, Salve said.
India has emerged as the largest commercial market for cricket and accounts for 80 per cent of the worldwide revenue for the sport. BCCI has put up tenders and an Indian-owned company with a homegrown network with large production facilities has bid. Lets not miss the wood for the trees, he said. The public interest has suffered. ESPN has put no argument saying that it has been detrimental to public interest. They are only working for their interest and monopoly.
Earlier, ESPN's counsel Iqbal Chaggla, referring to SAB TV's argument about ESS being a foreign entity in an intervention application filed yesterday, told the court that even Zee has its registered offices in countries like the USA and United Kingdom. Chaggla argued that company's licence was under Zee TV, USA.
BCCI TO HONOUR COURT DIKTAT
The working committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which held an emergency meeting in Kolkata yesterday, has decided to follow the court's diktat that status quo be maintained on the issue of telecast rights.
This rules out any further moves on the part of the BCCI to offer the piecemeal rights of the upcoming Australia series to national broadcaster Doordarshan.
In its submission to the court today, the BCCI sought time for arguments and the court told it to put forward its submissions on Monday when its counsel, KK Venugopal, is expected to address the court.
The court has still to look into the maintainability of the writ filed by ESS and the arguments will continue on Monday at 2:45 pm. The court has also allowed the intervention application filed by SAB TV.
This of course raises the question of whether the court will be able to deliver its verdict on the matter by next week because time is running out for all the parties to the dispute.