No interim relief to broadcasters by Bombay HC in tariff order case

TV broadcasters on Tuesday failed to seek an interim relief from the Bombay high court against the new tariff regulations by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Admitting the petitions from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), and top broadcasters, the two judge bench of justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice RI Chagla issued notice to Trai asking to respond within a week. The court will hear the matter or January 22nd.

Meanwhile, as the petitions are accepted, the broadcasters are planning not to comply with the amendments to the new tariff order (NTO), which they challenged in the court.

Apart from the IBF, broadcasters like Star and Disney India, Zee Entertainment EnterprisesNSE 0.72 % (ZEE), Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), TV18NSE -0.36 % and Viacom18, and the Films & Television Producers Guild of India had also filed individual petitions, asking to quash the new amendments and a stay order in the meantime.

As per the new amendments, notified on January 1st, broadcasters have to issue revised rate card of their channels, in compliance with the new regulations by January 15th. The distribution platform operators (DPOs, a term used for cable and DTH operators) are than given 15 days to revise their packages. Ultimately, consumers will have one month to select channels or bouquets of their choice and the new rates will be effective March 1st.

However, multiple broadcasters told ET on condition of anonymity that they are planning not file the revised prices.

In the high court, countering the primary grounds of petitions filed against the regulator, senior counsel Venkatesh Dhond said that most of the petitioners are indulging in “scare mongering” and the Trai is seeking one week’s time to file its reply.

“There is a concentrated effort to move to the court, just a day before the deadline of January 15,” argued Dhond. He further added that all the petitioners have filed their case on the same date on January 13 and the regulator has received the copy of the plea only in the evening. “The change will come in effect from March 1st and only the prices need to amend by January 15th. The broadcasters knew of this deadline since January 1st.”

Countering this, senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas, who was representing the producers’ guild, argued that the amendment is absolutely “arbitrary” and “violates” natural justice.

“In earlier regulation 60 days were given to the consumer to decide on the rate card but now the rate card is supposed to be announced in 15 days,” argued Dwarkadas. “There is no choice and if you don’t comply with this, your license will be threatened.”

The guild approached the court since it is a provider of content to the broadcasters.

Since the Trai has sought one week’s time, lawyers representing individual broadcasters as well as association sought a stay for a week and said that if that doesn’t happen then the regulator might take cohesive action against them.

Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who was representing IBF argued that the balance of convenience lies with the broadcasters. “Nothing will change for the regulator if we get a stay from complying with January 1 notification but if we don’t get such relief than it is likely to create an adverse impact on businesses,” argued Chinoy.

While the guild is being represented by the law firm AZB & Partners, ZEE and SPN are being represented by Wadia Gandy & Co and Bharucha & Partners. Law firms TMT Associates is advising IBF, while Desai Desai Carrimjee & Mulla is Star & Disney India’s law firm.


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