[Tushar Kumar, student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow, critiques the apex court’s judgment in the popular case against the Board of Cricket Control of India as it is against the mandate given under the National Sports & Recreation Act, 1998.]
The Apex Court, in BCCI v Union of India, held that Star India is obligated to share feeds of live cricketing events with Prasar Bharti so that it can transmit the same on its terrestrial and its own Direct-to-Home (DTH) network, and not other DTH and cable service providers, on grounds that the licensee of BCCI i.e. Star India is incurring huge subscription losses and there is no need to read the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (hereinafter referred to as the Cable Act) into the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing With Prasar Bharti) Act, 2007 (hereinafter referred to as the Sports Act). The author strongly disagrees with the opinion of the Court as the judgment goes against the mandate of the Sports Act i.e. to widen the base of viewership of sporting events of national importance, which in the current case is cricket. Despite the fact that there is no law designed for DTH service providers, the Guidelines For Obtaining License For Providing Direct-To-Home (DTH) Broadcasting Service In India of 2001 (hereinafter referred to as the Licensing Guidelines), along with the notifications issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, clearly state that DTH operators have to adhere to the provisions of the Cable Act. This is repugnant to S.8 of the Cable Act which states that there shall be no deletion or alteration of programs by the content rights owner when it is being shared on Prasar Bharti’s channels. Moreover, the Sports Act provides for a revenue sharing model for the licensee of BCCI and Prasar Bharti, which points towards the fact that it is not an expropriatory legislation. The prohibition of the broadcast on Prasar Bharti’s channels on cable and DTH operators is going to hamper the advertisement revenues of Star Network severely, much more than the subscription losses that it has been incurring. The fact that majority of cricket viewers have either a cable connection or a DTH service provider, this judgment will not only jeopardize the viewership of cricket in India, but may also be responsible for reduction in the viewership of Doordarshan.