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Indo-Pak cricket series: Madras HC reserves order on plea for telecast rights for Prasar Bharati

Our Legal Correspondent

Chennai , March 11

THE Madras High Court on Thursday reserved orders on petitions seeking broadcast rights for the Prasar Bharati for the coming Indo-Pak cricket series.

Earlier, while hearing the petitions, the Chief Justice, Mr B. Subhashan Reddy, wondered as to why the Government did not act swiftly to legislate enabling the Prasar Bharati to acquire the requisite rights to telecast the series to be played in Pakistan.

Sitting on the First Bench, Mr Justice B. Subhashan Reddy and Mr Justice M. Thanickachalam, heard for the third day on Thursday arguments on public interest petitions preferred by Krishnaswamy Associates and Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group seeking broadcast rights for the Prasar Bharati for the forthcoming Indo-Pak cricket series. Intervening, the Chief Justice said it seemed as though the Government sought strength from the people to act in this case.

While the Government had exercised its legislative powers on many important issues such as the Conditional Access System (CAS) and the disinvestment of public sector undertakings, it had failed to act in this case. It could have acted to legislate on its own so that the Indian viewers could have the opportunity to enjoy the cricket matches.

The Additional Solicitor General, Mr V.T. Gopalan, conceded that due to the absence of the requisite guidelines, the authorities concerned could not acquire the telecast rights.

It was well known that the Government had the required legal power to legislate in this matter, though there was some delay in taking action at the right time. The authorities had come to know only in the middle of February about the final decision to send the Indian cricket team to the neighbouring country.

The Chief Justice asked as to why a welfare State like India failed to act in time to meet the aspirations of its people. On the other hand, it had lagged behind in taking quick action. He pointed out that the Government decided to enforce the CAS to help TV viewers, but the enforcement was confined only to Tamil Nadu. But there again, it decided to suddenly withdraw the scheme in Tamil Nadu.

Senior advocate Mr K. Parasaran appearing for Ten Sports, which had acquired the satellite rights for telecasting the matches all over the world, including India, argued that the channel had the commercial right to sell its brand.

Towards that end, it had concluded the agreement to telecast the Indo-Pak series. In fact, it had concluded a five-year agreement with Pakistan to telecast all matches in which the Pakistan team will be playing.

The question of somebody being allowed to exercise his fundamental right had no relevance inasmuch as the deal was a commercial proposition.

Referring to the argument advanced on behalf of Prasar Bharati that public interest in India was paramount against private interest, he pleaded to the Bench to consider, while granting any interim relief to the petitioners, how public interest should be viewed in the context of the need to honour international accords like the agreement entered into by Ten Sports.

Mr Parasaran said that the telecast right was "our product'', and substantial money had been incurred in providing the requisite infrastructure. It would be unbecoming of a Government undertaking like the Prasar Bharati to take "our product'' in the name of public interest.

On behalf of the petitioners, Mr Sriram Panchu contended that 800-million viewers were covered only by the Doordarshan and they would be denied to enjoy the cricket series as a consequence of the deal reached by Ten Sports.

The channel had acquired the satellite rights to telecast the series "for pure selfish commercial advantage''.

To refuse the Prasar Bharati to telecast the series would be violation of the fundamental right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution.

Ten Sports was a foreign entity, and what fundamental right it enjoyed in this country, he wondered.

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