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TDSAT dismisses Media Pro’s 14 petitions seeking payments from cable ops

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NEW DELHI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has dismissed 14 petitions by Media Pro Enterprise India, Mumbai against cable operators as “there is no material on record even to show what were the dues, if any, of the respondents on the date their respective agreements came to end.”

TDSAT chairman Justice Aftab Alam and member Kuldeep Singh said in fact that three cases by the petitioner were plainly barred by limitation. 

The judgment said, “We are satisfied that in none of the cases in the batch, the claim of the petitioner is fit to be allowed. All the petitions are accordingly dismissed with costs at Rs 5,000 per petition payable to the TDSAT Employees’ Welfare Society. A receipt showing payment of the cost should be filed in the Registry within a month from the date of the judgment.”

The three petitions barred by limitation (time-barred) were against S.M. Advertising, Maharashtra; Nileshwar Cable TV Network, Kerala; and Tara Cable Network, Maharashtra.

The other local cable operators (LCOs) against whom the petitions had been filed included five from Gujarat - Narmada Cable Service, Five Star Network, Star Marketing, Anjali Cable Network, and Jai Santoshi Maa; two from Maharashtra - Bhusawal Network and H.R. Entertainment; Rathore Network, Rajasthan; Apna In Cable Broad Band Services, Andhra Prdesh; Nandgaon Cable Network, Chhattisgarh; and Haridwar Cable Network, Uttarakhand. 

Media Pro used to be the agent and intermediary of several broadcasters, including Zee Turner Ltd and StarDEN Media Services on the basis of agreements executed with the broadcasters. According to the averment made in the petition, it started its operations as their agent in July 2011. Before that the channels of the aforesaid two broadcasters were given to the distributors on the basis of agreements executed by the broadcasters themselves. 

The 14 petitions are for recovery of different sums of money as dues of monthly subscription fees. According to the petitioner, the 14 LCOs were receiving the signals from Zee and Star DEN on the basis of agreements executed with them on different dates, on payment of different sums of money as subscription fees in terms of their respective agreements. It is further the case of the petitioner that on the basis of agreements executed with the broadcasters, it took over the control and distribution of their channels and was also authorised by its principals to collect their outstanding dues from all the distributors, including the present LCOs.

According to Media Pro, after assuming the role of agent and intermediary, it raised invoices against the LCOs for payment of monthly subscription fees as also the past dues of the principal broadcasters. The LCOs, however, failed to make payments against the invoices and as a result dues accumulated, leading to the petitions. Media Pro has claimed the amounts due along with interest at 18 per cent from the date the amount became due till the date of the filing of the petition. 

The Tribunal noted that in all cases, the subscription agreement had come to end before Media Pro stepped into the shoes of the agent and the intermediary of the broadcasters. Furthermore, the supply of signals to the LCOs continued for many months even after the agreements had come to end – a fact admitted in the petitions and by witnesses examined.

None of the 14 cable operators appeared despite service of notice. Hence, all the petitions in the batch were proceeded with ex parte. As all are based on similar facts with the exception of the amounts of money claimed and the date of disconnection of signals, all were heard together. 

The witnesses said Media Pro requested the LCOs to renew the expired agreements but the latter delayed this on one pretext or other and invoices were raised. The TV channel signals accordingly continued to be retransmitted by LCOs to their subscribers until May 2012. 

The said retransmission by the respondent to its subscribers has been duly verified and corroborated by the petitioner through ground verification conducted from time to time and as recent as on April - May 2012.  

However, the Tribunal noted, “the averment of Media Pro is thus directly in teeth of the clear directive of the Regulations.” 

The Tribunal said clause 4A of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnect Regulations 2004 with effect from 17 March, 2009 is clear that the Interconnection Agreements have to be in writing. It further says no broadcaster of pay channels or distributor of TV channels, such as multi system operator or headend in the sky operator shall make available signals of TV channels to any distributor of TV channels without entering into a written interconnection agreement.

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