Zee makes government also respondent in SC writ

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: It has finally happened. Zee Telefilms this afternoon filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the cancellation of an earlier tender process by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) involving telecast rights of international and domestic cricket tournaments it conducts.

Zee has also dragged the Centre into the controversy making the Union government the first respondent in its writ petition.

The Zee petition, citing Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, has requested the apex court to set aside the decision of the cricket board to cancel the contract awarding telecast rights for cricket matches held in India between 2004 and 2008.

The hearing has been scheduled for Friday (24 September), while the case is slated to be listed tomorrow. The respondents in the petition, apart from the Union of India, are the BCCI president (Jagmohan Dalmiya who was unavailable for comment), the board secretary (Prof Ratnakar Shetty), ESPN Star Sports and PriceWaterhouse Cooper Pvt Ltd.

The move by Zee Telefilms has been prompted after an affidavit given in the Bombay High Court yesterday by the BCCI that it was canceling and nullifying a tendering process for India cricket telecast rights for the next four years till August 2008.

Subsequent to this move, ESPN Star Sports, a joint venture between Walt Disney and News Corp, which had challenged the awarding of the rights to Zee, withdrew its petition and the court had no option but to pass no order or issue a directive on the matter.

According to a report filed by the Press Trust of India, Zee, while stating that the contract for the telecast rights stands implemented with the payment of $ 20 million by it to the BCCI, also mentioned in its petition that it was fully equipped to cover the India-Australia cricket series starting from 6 October.

India's largest vertically integrated media company has also alleged that there was prior collusion between BCCI and ESS, which was what led to the cricket board's sudden announcement about cancellation of the telecast contract to Zee and the immediate withdrawal of the petition by the sports broadcaster before the Bombay High Court.

The petition also exhorts the court to direct BCCI not to grant the telecast rights to any other channel before adjudication of the dispute raised by it, PTI quotes Zee's counsel Maninder Singh as arguing.

Anticipating the petition, BCCI had filed a caveat in the Supreme Court yesterday itself requesting the court not to pass any orders on the telecast issue without hearing the Board, its counsel Radha Rangaswamy told the court today.


Meanwhile, responding to reported demands made by ESS for a public apology for the charges he made yesterday, Zee Group CMD Subhash Chandra issued this statement to PTI: "I said and maintain that there is a collusion between the BCCI and ESPN and that instructions were given to the counsel for BCCI by Mr (Jagmohan) Dalmiya without due authority of BCCI as such." PTI also quotes Chandra as clarifying that he had not said "anything pejorative" against the BCCI counsel.

"We have not received any communication from ESPN with regard to an apology. If they have to go to the court, we will provide enough information in the court proving a nexus between BCCI and ESPN," a spokesperson for Essel Group told Essel is the parent entity for Zee Telefilms.

Calls made by to ESPN India's spokesperson for an official reaction to the allegations made yesterday by Chandra, as also to today's developments, went unanswered. There was no response either, despite repeated attempts, from ESPN's public relations agency.

In a related development, cricket board supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man who is really at the centre of the whole cricket telecast imbroglio, said today the BCCI would make every possible effort to telecast the upcoming India-Australia cricket series on its own.

Addressing the media in Kolkata, Dalmiya said the country's image and prestige were at stake, while laying the blame for the whole sorry mess the board was entangled in on the "adamant attitude" of Zee and ESS.

Coming back to Article 32, which has been cited so profusely by Zee Telefilms in its petition, what exactly does it state? The following:

(1) The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.

(2) The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part.

(3) Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clauses (1) and (2), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause (2).

(4) The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.

As they say on television --- `don't go away, we'll be back after a break' --- the telecast rights issue will be back in the national limelight later this week.

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