SC tells ESPN to call on it, if govt. seeks to coerce

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court told ESPN-STAR Sports that it could approach it in case the latter finds itself being coerced by the Central government for not sharing its exclusive feed of the just concluded India-South Africa cricket series with Prasar Bharati.

The court disposed of the application holding that with the statement of the government, nothing survives in the application.

The bench, comprising Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice Dalveer Bhandari, on recording the statement of Additional Solicitor General Amrender Saran, that till date, the government had not taken any coercive step, and if it decides to do so, it would issue a show-cause notice, said then the applicant would be free to approach the court, as the series is already over.

Incidentally, a petition challenging the government guidelines to compulsorily share feed of every national or international tournament with the public broadcaster, namely Doordarshan, in public interest is already pending in the court.

Earlier, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the channel, had contended that his application was for stay of coercive steps and must not be confined to the India-South Africa cricket series.

ESPN-Star Sports had last week stated that it had filed a writ petition in the Delhi High court seeking to quash the downlinking guidelines, issued in November 2005, compelling the television channels to share the telecast of all matches, even if they were played outside India. This petition was subsequently shifted to the apex court.

The petitioner had said that though it had exclusive rights for the telecast of the matches, it apprehended that the government would penalise the channel by invoking the provisions under the downlinking guidelines.

Prasar Bharati had requested it to share the Star-ESPN feed with Doordarshan's terrestrial channel and proposed sharing of revenue in the ratio of 75:25.

ESPN-Star Sports had said it would be willing to share the dirty feed (the signal along with advertisements and logo) provided Prasar Bharati paid Rs 35 million for one-day internationals as compensation for loss of subscription revenue.

It was apparent that Prasar Bharati only wanted to make money and was not really interested whether the public were able to watch cricket matches or not, the petitioner had argued.

It had sought quashing of the guidelines on downlinking policy.

In response to that and the hearings today, the Apex court today told ESPN to come back to it if they felt coercion is being resorted to.

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