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Cricket telecast right hangs in SC balance
A taxi driver follows the match on radio in Mumbai. (AFP)

New Delhi, March 14: The Supreme Court will hear a petition tomorrow that could decide whether millions of cable-less homes can watch the Revival Series on television and whether India can control signals beamed from and into its territory despite a global contract between two foreign firms.

The court will hear arguments on this aspect when it takes up a petition by Ten Sports, the Dubai-based channel that holds exclusive rights to the India-Pakistan cricket series.

The government’s contention is that irrespective of the contract between two foreign bodies, Ten Sports and the Pakistan Cricket Board in this case, India can still control the electronic airwaves beamed inside its territory.

Arguments in the proceedings on Friday night at the residence of Chief Justice V.. Khare pertained to laws in Pakistan. When the judges asked what would have happened if a foreign firm with a telecast deal with the Indian cricket board refused to give signals to Pakistani TV, advocate-general Soli Sorabjee explained that in the neighbouring country, the government controls terrestrial transmission from and into its territory.

The Centre was mulling an ordinance to control the electronic airwaves beamed inside its territory during the initial stages of the controversy over Ten Sports feeding the cricket telecast to state-run Doordarshan.

In a case between the Bengal Cricket Association and the secretary, information and broadcasting, in 1995, the Supreme Court had held that “free airwaves” are part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution.

On the basis of the ruling, a petition was moved in Madras High Court on Friday, contending that citizens had the fundamental right to “free electronic airwaves”. In an interim order, the court permitted Doordarshan to obtain signals from Ten Sports.

Advocate on record P.H. Parekh and senior counsel Kapil Sibal for Ten Sports say there is no public interest involved; it is only a question of the commercial interest of a foreign firm not bound by Indian laws.

But solicitor-general Kirit Rawal and Sorabjee contend that the “commercial interest” of a foreigner is subject to Indian laws once the foreigner does business here.

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