New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that broadcasters of important sports events must remove all commercials, sponsor logos and credits before handing a clean feed of the event to state-owned Prasar Bharati for the sake of public interest.
A two-judge bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and P.C. Pant delivered the ruling o Friday, while dismissing Star India Ltd’s appeal against an October 2013 verdict of the Delhi High Court.
The ruling means Star India, which holds the rights to broadcast cricket events organized under the International Cricket Council in India (ICC), must remove all commercial content from the feed before giving it to Prasar Bharati, which broadcasts it on its Doordarshan channel.
In a 36-page ruling, the Supreme Court said that even if the broadcaster—Star India in this case—didn’t earn revenue from the on-screen credits inserted by the event organizer (ICC), the credits were of a commercial nature and had to be removed under the law.
The law in question is the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, and related rules. Section 3 of the law mandates that broadcasters will share signals of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharati simultaneously and without advertisements.
The apex court said there was a need to look at public interest.
“It becomes apparent from… (a) reading of the Preamble that purpose is to provide access to the largest number of listeners and viewers, on a free-to-air basis, of sporting events of national importance. This task is given to Prasar Bharati. Notwithstanding more popularity which the private channels have gained over a period of time, coverage of Prasar Bharati is far more reaching insofar as Indian population is concerned as it reaches almost every nook and corner of the country. Further, the radio as well as television broadcasting of Prasar Bharati is free of cost. It is for this reason that the law in the form of Sports Act is enacted in order to ensure that such sporting events of national importance are made available to every citizen of this country, irrespective of his/her financial conditions,” the apex court’s verdict said.
The signals shared by broadcasters have to be the “best feed” and free of commercial advertisements, the court said.
“Thus, even if it is ICC which has included those advertisements/logos, the feeds have to be without those logos/advertisements inasmuch as nobody can dispute that the content rights owner are content holder, i.e, ICC in the instant case has included those logos/advertisements from purely commercial angle. Thus, the arrangement between the ICC and the appellant is totally inconsequential,” it said.
The dispute arose after Prasar Bharati demanded clean feeds from Star India. Star India contended that this rule would impact not only cricket but other sporting events such as tennis and hockey.
Star India had earlier argued that if a Wimbledon match had to be aired in the country whose official sponsor is Rolex SA, the present scheme would require the Rolex name to be removed from the feed, which was unlikely.