SC rejects Star appeal on sharing sports signals with DD

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today upheld the contention by Prasar Bharati that enhancements embedded in the sports feed shared by sports channels with Doordarshan were commercial advertisements.

Rejecting a special leave petition by Star India against a Delhi High Court order which had gone in favour of Prasar Bharati, The apex Court also held that the prohibition in Section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007 (Sports Act) is not only against advertisements of the broadcast service provider but also those of the content rights owner and holder.

The Court said the word 'its' in Section 3 of the Act refers to the the content rights owners, holder and broadcast service provider. Therefore it was immaterial as to who inserted the enhancements. Under the Act the signal to be provided had to be free of advertisements.

The Sports Act is clear that live signals of sporting events of national importance have to be shared by the content rights owners or holders and broadcast service providers with Prasar Bharati without advertisements. Furthermore, a clean feed is to be provided.

Prasar Bharati in its petition in the High Court had claimed that the feed being provided contained commercial enhancements. But Star took the plea that the commercial enhancements were not advertisements and the enhancements were in any case being inserted by International Cricket Council.

Star also said the prohibition in Section 3 of the Sports Act was only against advertisements of the broadcast service provider (Star) and not those of the content rights owner (ICC). It claimed that the word 'its' in Section 3 of the Act only referred to the broadcast service provider and not the content rights owner.

While senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi had appeared for Star Sports, Prasar Bharati was represented by Attorney General Mukul Rohatagi.

Taking up the case in Febuary last year, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Prafulla C Pant had said ‘we are of the view that the interim order passed earlier to the effect that the impugned order dated 4 February of the High Court shall remain suspended should continue until further orders.’

The Court had at that time said it was ‘not inclined’ to consider the suggestion made by Star Sports that Doordarshan should set up an extra/special channel which has been contended by Prasar Bharati to be unviable and technically unfeasible within any reasonable period of time.

On the second suggestion about ‘putting up a scroll to the effect that 'the channel displaying the sports event (concerned ICC World Cup 2015 matches) is meant only for Doordarshan', the Court said ‘acceptance of the said suggestion would be understanding the provisions of Section 3 of the Sports Act 2007 and Section 8 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 in a particular manner which is not warranted at this stage of the proceedings. We, therefore, decline to accept the said second suggestion advanced on behalf of the respondents.’

Star India had in an additional affidavit at the time said that it was losing around Rs 290 crore every year by sharing its sports signals with Doordarshan and was expecting to lose around Rs 120 crore by sharing the telecast of the World Cup this year. (Under the Sports Act, the rights holder gets 75 per cent of the revenue from the telecast on DD which keeps the balance 25 per cent.)

The Delhi High Court had declined to set aside the must carry clause as well as the Sports Act in its judgment.

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