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ESPN stumps Zee, offer for offer

Chennai, Feb. 23: The telecast war over the India-Pakistan series is out in the open now.

ESPN-STAR Sports today sprang a surprise, matching Zee Telefilms's offer to telecast the series. Madras High Court has reserved till tomorrow its order 'on an interim arrangement'.

Zee, locked in a legal battle with the Board of Control for Cricket in India over four-year telecast rights, had yesterday told the court it was prepared to produce and broadcast the feed 'for no money'. The channel, which was asked to make this offer 'on paper', today submitted in court a copy of the letter sent to board president Ranbir Singh Mahendra.

While the channel's counsel and Supreme Court lawyer B.S. Raman spent most of the day seeking to justify the 'reasonableness' of Zee's offer, lawyers appearing for the board said the offer 'is not acceptable to us as it was nothing but a reproduction of what was offered earlier before the Supreme Court'.

But it was ESPN's move towards the end of the day that stumped Zee. The sports channel, which like Doordarshan has so far been holding quiet talks with the board over the Pakistan series telecast, informed the court through its lawyer Vijaya Narayan that 'we are also going to make a similar offer today'.

The judge, Justice Sivasubramaniam, told the ESPN counsel: 'You can submit your offer also.'

The root of the legal wrangle lies in the board first suggesting that Zee had won telecast rights at home for four years starting 2004 and then holding back award of the contract.

The ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) letter from its Singapore office to the BCCI president, released to the media in the evening, said that to 'ensure that no postponement or cancellation of this India-Pakistan series is necessary, ESS wishes to offer its assistance to the BCCI in the interests of the game, prior to any judgment' by Madras High Court in the petition initiated by Zee.

Like Zee, ESS agreed to 'deposit all advertising revenues which it receives following deduction of applicable agency commissions, any costs incurred and fees payable to PB (Prasar Bharati) in relation to its telecasts, any applicable taxes and mutually agreed production costs with the BCCI'.

Barring this surprise element, the marathon arguments on Zee's main petition that ended today after five days saw its counsel asserting that it had offered the best possible terms to the board. 'There is no reason to reject, either on commercial grounds or public interest, Zee's offer,' contended Raman.

Raman tried to prove that 'arbitrariness and extraneous considerations' drove the then BCCI chief, Jagmohan Dalmiya, on September 21 last year to cancel the tender process and call a fresh bid after 'deciding' on September 5 to give the four-year telecast rights for cricket matches to Zee.

Justice Sivasubramaniam said he would need at least 10 days to deal with all the issues raised in Zee's writ petition. But since that would be too late for the series beginning in early March, the judge said he would pass an order tomorrow on an 'interim arrangement' to telecast the forthcoming cricket matches.

Pak board hint

A top Pakistan Cricket Board official today hinted that it would seek compensation from the Indian board if the tour does not go ahead as scheduled.

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