The Madras High Court has issued notice in a PIL challenging provisions under the Sports Broadcasting Act that prevent the free live broadcast of sporting events of national importance on platforms other than the state-owned Prasar Bharati’s terrestrial networks and DTH networks..The Bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad has issued notice in the matter returnable by four weeks..The petitioner has also challenged restrictions preventing Prasar Bharati from live-streaming such sports events for free through its online Doordarshan channels..This apart, the plea also raises concern over lacunae in the prevailing laws which allow private content right holders/broadcast service providers to evade obligations to share broadcasting signals of such sports events with Prasar Bharati..To this end, petitioner Aditya Modi has challenged Section 3(1) of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing With Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 read with the Rules 3(1) and (7) of the Sports Broadcast Signals (Mandatory Sharing With Prasar Bharati) Rules, 2007..Section 3(1) of the Sports Broadcasting Act deals with mandatory sharing of certain sports broadcasting signals. It states,.“(1) No content rights owner or holder and no television or radio broadcasting service provider shall carry a live television broadcast on any cable or Direct-to-Home network or radio commentary broadcast in India of sporting events of national importance, unless it simultaneously shares the live broadcasting signal, without its advertisements, with the Prasar Bharati to enable them to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and Direct-to-Home networks in such manner and on such terms and conditions as may be specified.”.The petitioner has contended that Section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Act and the corresponding Rules erroneously defeats the legislative intent of the Act “to provide access to the largest number of listeners and viewers, on a free-to-air basis, of sporting events of national importance.“.In this regard, the petitioner points to two limitations imposed when it comes to the free live broadcast of sports events..“The limitations, firstly on the kind of broadcasting service providers that are required to comply with the Impugned Provisions and secondly on the mediums of broadcasting through which the Respondent No. 4 can retransmit the live broadcasting signals shared with it, are arbitrary, irrational, unjust, contrary to the objective of the Sports Broadcasting Act read with the Sports Broadcasting Rules and unsustainable”, states the plea..The two limitations highlighted by the plea are as follows..No obligation to share online live-streaming broadcast with Prasar Bharati.According to the petition, content right owners can claim that they have no obligation to share the broadcast signals of sports events with Prasar Bharati if they choose to live stream the event on platforms apart from cable/DTH (television modes) and radio..As stated in the petition,.“… [there is] scope for evasion of the obligation under the Impugned Provisions by any broadcasting service provider who can/may refuse to share live broadcasting signals for the sporting events of national importance by merely deciding not to carry any live television broadcast on any cable or DTH network or radio commentary broadcast in India….… [they] may instead carry a live broadcast of the sporting events of national importance on the internet or through its own OTT platform in which event, the content rights holder can claim to be under no obligation to share the live broadcasting signals with Respondent No. 4 [Prasar Bharati]….”.Consequently, it is contended that “the provisions of Section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Act, as they currently stand, can be defeated by a content rights owners and holders.”.Prasar Bharati restricted from re-transmitting live broadcast of sports events.The petitioner further argues that even where the broadcasting signals for such sports events are shared with Prasar Bharati, the entity can only re-transmit the live broadcast on its terrestrial and DTH networks..As Section 3 makes no mention of digital/newer broadcasting modes, live-streaming such sports events through Doordarshan’s online channels cannot be done..Further, other channels willing to live-stream the sports events on a free-to-air basis, either through its own platform or by making the Doordarshan live stream available on its platform, are prevented from doing so..The petition states,.“The aforesaid limitations, also, unjustly prevents the Respondent No. 4 from retransmitting the live broadcasting signals concerning the sporting events of national importance on all available/prevailing mediums, on free-to-air basis, including the Respondent No. 4’s own OTT platform, other third-party platforms which may carry such content on a free-to-air basis and cable operators / other networks pursuant to the Cable Television Act.”.In other words,.“… citizens/viewers cannot enjoy the live broadcasting of the sporting events of national importance, on a free-to-air basis, unless and until these citizens/viewers additionally secure the Respondent No. 4’s [Prasar Bharati] own terrestrial networks and DTH networks or are compelled to watch these sporting events on highly priced sports channels.“.The case for enabling free online broadcast of sporting events.Notably, the petitioner has argued for facilitating free online streaming of sports events by Doordarshan, particularly given the growing number of internet users in India..It is argued that if Prasar Bharati is allowed to retransmit the live broadcast of sporting events through its online platforms, it would further the avowed object of the Sports Broadcasting Act i.e. to ensure that the broadcast of sporting events of national importance reaches the largest possible audience..However, at present, the petitioner points out that only private players are capitalising on a large number of internet users in India, at the cost of public interest. The petition states,.“Internet services are easily accessible to most citizens of India. Taking advantage of the said situation, the content right owners/holders and mere broadcasters for sporting events have also started to stream matches live on their web portals online and through their respective OTT services. However, such live streaming is accessible only upon payment of hefty subscription fees….…The private broadcasters are not only enjoying the revenue they earn from broadcasting the live feed of such sporting events through their satellite /cable channels and the DTH networks but are also enjoying the hefty subscription fees which consumers are being forced to pay in order to watch sporting events online.“ .Section 3 (1) of Sports Broadcasting Act and allied Rules unconstitutional.In view of the concerns raised above, the petitioner has contended that Section 3(1) of the Sports Broadcasting Act and the corresponding Rules are unconstitutional..“The Impugned Provisions, to the extent set out above, deprives millions of citizens the right to information and entertainment, which has been enshrined under Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Impugned Provisions, to the extent set out above, are violative of rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India.“.Therefore, it has prayed that the Court declare the restrictions so imposed as null and void. Further, it has been prayed that the Court hold that Prasar Bharati has a right to retransmit the live broadcast of sporting events of national importance on any of the mediums available on free-to-air basis, including but not limited to, its OTT platform (online platform) as well as other third-party platforms which retransmit the content on a free-to-air basis..Bar & Bench is available on WhatsApp. For real-time updates on stories, Click here to subscribe to our WhatsApp.