New Delhi : Millions of Doordarshan viewers will be able to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket match live on February 15, with the Supreme Court on Tuesday staying a Delhi High Court order that had restrained the public broadcaster from showing the matches on channels such as DD National and DD News that are carried by cable operators.
Under the law, cable operators have to compulsorily carry these channels. Rights holder Star had moved the Delhi High Court contending that showing the matches on them would hurt its advertisement revenue and subscription fees. Doordarshan’s revenue surges during these matches, and though these are shared with the rights holder in the ratio of 75:25, cable operators are then able to pick up the state-run broadcaster’s feed rather than having to subscribe to that of the rights holder.
Acting on the plea, the high court had restrained Doordarshan from showing the matches on these two channels. Both the central government and Prasar Bharati, which runs Doordarshan, had appealed against the February 6 high court decision in the top court.
Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi mentioned these appeals filed by lawyers Rajeev Sharma and Sahil Bhalaik on an urgent outof-turn basis before Chief Justice HL Dattu to get an immediate hearing.
Hearing these two appeals for the first time, atop court bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued notices to private broadcasters to place their views before the court and stayed the high court order for the time being.
The top court said that it would hear the case again on February 17, two days after the tournament starts on Sunday. The private broadcasters had urged the court to hear their pleas before the matches start.
“We won’t change things abruptly,” Justice Gogoi said. “World Cups will come and go. Money lost can be earned. Money is not very important,” he told former finance minister and senior advocate P Chidambaram, who was appearing for Star.
“By putting it on its terrestrial and DTH (direct-to-home) service, it (Doordarshan) would be obliging its subscribers,” he said. “But why would you want to give it free to other private operators? The subscription is only.`18 per subscriber. Why will anyone subscribe (if they get it free from Doordarshan)?”
“We will get nothing despite a judgement (in our favour). We can’t even recover .`18 per subscriber. We can’t put the clock back, but the court must balance equities,” he said, urging it to grant relief to the rights holder. The rights holder for the 2007-12 period, Nimbus, went broke, Chidambaram argued. Star lawyer Gopal Singh placed the daily loss from a match simultaneously broadcast on Doordarshan at .`43 crore.
Star, which won the rights for .`3,851 crore, and the BCCI will now come up with proposals to resolve the standoff until the court takes a final view on the issue.
Rohatgi resisted any hearing before the first match. “The first match is an India-Pakistan match. Let the people enjoy,” he said. Private broadcasters and Doordarshan have had clashed over telecast rights of important sporting events. The issue reached the high court in 2007 where it remained pending until the recent ruling in Star’s favour. Reacting to the Supreme Court refusal to grant interim relief, Star India CEO Sanjay Gupta said such an eventuality had been taken into account. “We had made plans keeping this scenario in mind, so neither ratings nor the rate for advertisers will get affected,” he said.