TDSAT rejects DD's interim measure for FreeDish

NEW DELHI: While giving relief to slot-holders on Doordarshan FreeDish, to ensure their continuity till the government decides its new policy over the next two months, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal (TDSAT) also rejected the interim formula proposed by Doordarshan in its letter to the main petitioner Cinema 24x7.

TDSAT chairman justice Shiva Keerti Singh, and members B B Srivastava and A K Bhargava said: “We find no good reason either from the submission or from the order of the respondent (Prasar Bharati) as to why the earlier direction and policy on pro-rata basis is being discontinued, that too when the respondents have claimed that a regular policy to replace the existing policy is likely to come within two months.”

The tribunal also rejected the submission by Prasar Bharati counsel Rajeev Sharma and additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta that no interim order was required in view of the order of Prasar Bharati of 27 October 2017.

The tribunal fixed the next date of hearing on 14 December 2017 and said that rejoinder if any by the broadcasters could be filed within two weeksafter the four weeks given to Prasar Bharati to file its reply.

The full text of the order of the tribunal was:

“To avoid undue hardship to the petitioners and possible discrimination vis-a-vis those who have been earlier granted continuity on pro-rata basis, we pass the following interim directions:

(i)  The petitioners or others similarly situated as them, who need continuity because of non-holding of the e-auction and have applied or apply for the same, shall  be allowed continuity on pro-rata basis.

(ii)  The respondent will be entitled to charge on pro-rata basis either on the basis of the highest bid amount or the reserved price whichever is higher.  We further clarify that the highest bid amount would mean the highest bid in that category in the preceding year.

(iii) This interim order will not create any right or equity in favour of anyone and the arrangement shall come to end as soon the central government declares its new general policy and take steps to fill up the slots in accordance with such policy.  It is clarified that it will not be open for any petitioner or other operator to claim any right to continue on the basis of such interim arrangement.

(iv) The benefit of this interim arrangement shall be made available to the willing petitioners and other similarly situated operators at once and in any case within three days of their approaching the concerned respondent with an application.

All the petitions are admitted.”

The tribunal also analysed the proposed interim formula proposed by Doordarshan. It said “In the final analysis, the order declares the stand of the respondent with regard to “interim measures” in the following words:

“Now therefore in view of above, DD can as an interim measure follow a model on the pattern of FM auction policy of the government for two months or till the central government policy is made, whichever is earlier for the channels which are going to be off the air, on completion of their contract period may be offered continuity of operation at the highest bid amount for any of the channels auctioned in the past, together with revenue sharing at the rate of 50 per cent of the gross profit or 4 per cent of the gross revenue or 2.5 per cent of upfront highest bid amount whichever is higher.  This system, as an interim arrangement, should be operated on first come first served basis if the terms and conditions of the short duration extension are acceptable to the existing contract holder.

The interim arrangement / measure is irrespective of and notwithstanding the contents of the proceedings pending before the hon’ble tribunal and / or any other proceedings, if any, this interim measure will not create any right or equity in favour of anyone and shall come to end automatically upon the central government declaring its policy or after two months whichever is earlier and it will not be open for any operator to claim any right to continue or any other right based upon such an interim measure.”

Sharma and Mehta had made it clear during arguments that this formula was akin to the formula applied in the FM Radio auctions.

Apart from Cinema 24x7 which runs WoW Cinema and News Nation Network Pvt Ltd who had filed the case,  four other petitioners joined the case yesterday with fresh petitions: Enterr 10 TV Pvt Ltd, B4U Broadband India Pvt Ltd,  Independent News Service Pvt Ltd, and ABP News Network Pvt Ltd.

These broadcasters filed either because of their channels having either gone off the air or the likelihood that they will go off air very soon due to efflux of time leading to expiry of the annual agreement and a decision by the respondent not to hold the 37th e-Auction till further orders. The letter to Cinema 24x7 itself noted that some channels are going off air this month and some in February next year.

The tribunal was informed in September by Prasar Bharati that the e-Auction was put on hold because a new policy was under contemplation and the pubcaster wanted to take steps for filling the slots falling vacant in terms of the new policy.

The tribunal noted that: “The petitioners have no quarrel with the stand and they are not opposed to the respondent taking steps for filling up the slots on regular basis as per their new policy as and when it is formulated and implemented. Their grievance is that such producers who have been enjoying slots on the basis of their offer in the auction should not be thrown out of their vocation and the public should not be deprived of their channel because of there being no policy in the interregnum.  They are against such state of vacuum”.

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