MIB to amend Sports Broadcasting Bill

MIB

The ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) is proposed to amend The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 (Sports Act 2007) in order to ensure that the events of national importance have widest possible reach.

The national importance sports events may soon be available to larger number of audience on free-to-air Prasar Bharati broadcast platforms, including radio and television. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has moved an amended legislation that will ensure that national importance sports events like international cricket, Olympics and Asian Games’ broadcast is not just restricted to the homes, which get DD network signals via terrestrial or direct to home networks. But, the homes which get Prasar Bharati (Doordarshan) channels on cable also get access free to the live broadcast.

The Information & Broadcasting Ministry is proposing to bring in amendments to the Sports Broadcasting Signals Act (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007, which is expected to enthuse sports buffs. The Ministry proposes to ensure that viewers who do not have access to its terrestrial networks or its DTH Network – DD FreeDish – can also watch sports events of national importance through Doordarshan channels. Under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007, all private broadcasters are required to share live broadcasting signals of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharati simultaneously, to enable the public broadcaster to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and its direct-to-home (DTH) network.

Now the Ministry proposes to amend the Act to ensure that it can share the feed it gets from private sports broadcaster on DD channels that are carried by “other television distribution platforms,” namely Cable TV and private DTH platforms, the Ministry said in a notice. Currently, viewers who do not have DD FreeDish or Doordarshan’s terrestrial network, are either unable to watch these sporting events or are compelled to watch them on highly priced sports channels, defeating the objective of the Sports Act, the notice said.

The Ministry has sought suggestions from stakeholders on the proposed amendments. This is also likely to ease telecast of sporting events on DD channels after last year’s Supreme Court decision which said that Prasar Bharati can air the feed from private sports broadcasters only on its terrestrial network and DD FreeDish, and it is not meant for cable networks or other distribution platforms. The MIB, according to a report, has invited feedback on the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) (Amendment) Bill 2018. The legislation is proposed to iron out incompatibilities between existing laws that govern the distribution of sports broadcasting signals.

The stunning reverses suffered by the broadcasters before the judiciary in the recent times in view of its far-reaching implications in the ensuing times for the sports broadcasting industry, government’s broad policy framework and the audience. The Supreme Court in its judgment in August 2017 in the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 which involved Star India and Prasar Bharati, had finally confirmed the Delhi High Court’s finding when it adjudicated that the original intent of the Act was to achieve twin purposes of making available a live feed of a sporting event of national importance to economically weaker section of the society and consequently, the same should be made available on a free or no cost basis. It was expected that the Apex Court’s verdict would put an end to a long-drawn battle spanning over a decade.  

Controversy 

The Supreme Court whilst allowing the sporting events of national importance to be shared mandatorily with Prasar Bharati ruled that the public broadcaster cannot utilise it on a notified channel which has to be compulsorily carried by private distribution platforms. Although the ruling of the Supreme Court was not followed in letter and spirit by Prasar Bharati, it put the onus on sports broadcasters to take legal action against erring private commercial platforms carrying “live” sports feeds. Rather than encrypt Doordarshan’s feed, the Ministry ordered the Distribution Platform Operators to run a ticker stating that “the match/game can be viewed in free-to-air mode on DD Sports Channel, on DD Free Dish and DD’s terrestrial network”. Whilst the Supreme Court put away any confusion on the Sports Act and a private commercial sporting event like IPL anyway ought not to be considered as sporting events of national importance, Smriti Irani who was piloting the I&B Ministry in April 2018 had other ideas.

During her time in Shastri Bhawan, it seemed Star India was wrong when it fiercely bid to acquire long-term exclusive media rights for the Indian Premier League along with BCCI International and Domestic Matches for an approximate value of INR 16,350 crores and INR 6,150 crores respectively. The year 2017 was the first year for Star India after it acquired rights for the IPL and the Ministry inexplicably made them sweat out before granting temporary live up-linking permission for a live broadcast of the IPL matches on their channels till the very last moment. This was nothing else but to arm-twist Star India to share all the live matches of Indian Premier League with Doordarshan for free, even though IPL, which is a privately-owned club cricket league and can in no way be considered as a sporting event of national importance.  In the end, Star India had no other option but to give something to the power that is and they gave in to share with Prasar Bharati the inaugural, the playoffs held on weekends and the last four matches of IPL, with a deferred live feed of at least 60 minutes. No surprise, Smriti Irani claimed victory for bringing IPL for the first time ever on Doordarshan.

Not getting the “live” feed of IPL matches and unable to make legislative moves to amend the judgement of the Supreme Court as she did not find support amongst her ministerial colleagues the Irani-led Ministry issued a notice mandating all sports channels broadcasting live sports of “national importance” to display a ticker stating the same match was also available on DD’s free-to-air platform squirming sports broadcasters. Not only are the rights-holders required to give live sports content free to DD as per the Sports Act, but they are also required to run a marketing campaign for Doordarshan to drive audiences away from themselves to go somewhere else to watch it.

Now, if the broadcasters believed that the Supreme Court’s decision on the Sports Act in August 2017 had finally settled the issue, unfortunately, it was not to be.  On 24th October, the Ministry released a notice seeking feedback/comments on draft Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory) sharing with Prasar Bharati (Amendment) Bill, 2018.  The ministry wants to amend Section 3(1) of the Sports Act to ensure mandatory sharing of the signals of such sporting events with “other networks, where it is mandatory to show the Doordarshan channels as per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995”.  

Comments on Sports Broadcasting Amendment Bill

The opportunity to submit comments and views on the Draft Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) (Amendment) Bill 2018 has been extend. As the earlier deadline elapsed on January 31, 2018, The Ministry of Information has issued a notice to extend the last date. “It is informed that the deadline for receiving feedback/comments from General Public/Stakeholders on the said draft Bill, 2018 to enable telecast of ‘Sporting events of National importance’ on mandatory channels of Doordarshan via Cable/DTH/IPTV Operators has been further extended by this Ministry till 15.01.2019,” MIB has stated in the notice.

The Ministry had invited opinions on the proposed bill after putting the Draft Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) (Amendment) Bill, 2018 in public domain on October 17. The feedback/comments are sought to finalise the bill, that will give Prasar Bharti bigger access to broadcast the sports events of national interest. The amendments are aimed at providing widest possible reach to the sports events of national interest. The section 3(1) of the Sports Act at present makes it mandatory for the broadcasters to share of the signals of such events with Prasar Bharti and “to show the Doordarshan channels as per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995”. The ministry in its bid to extend the preview of the clause has sought feedback from people and the stakeholders.

The ministry in its earlier attempt to put the sports events on national importance’s Doordarshan feed on cable networks has failed after the Supreme Court had ruled that the public broadcaster Doordarshan cannot air events of national importance on private distribution platforms. The ministry feels that the purpose of Sports Act 2007 gets defeated as a large number of viewers are either unable to watch these sporting events or are compelled to watch them on highly-priced sports channels. The MIB had earlier extended the deadline from November 16 to December 31. The first notice dated October 17 provided the time till November 16 (a month from the date of the issue of the notice) to give the mandatory feedback to enable telecast of  ‘Sporting Events of National Importance’ on mandatory channels of Doordarshan via cable/DTH/ IPTV operators.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, then I&B minister Smriti Irani’s suggestion that BCCI’s the Indian Premier League (IPL), be covered under the Act has not been accepted by the sports ministry, headed by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who now also has charge of the I&B ministry; nevertheless, the latest move to amend the Act has again sent wrong signals. Such a move is prone to prompt broadcasters to revisit their investments in sporting rights.

Reluctance on the part of broadcasters to defer or abandon investments in picking up rights can culminate in a reduction of income of sports federations, which in turn would find it cumbersome to invest in the development and promotion of sport thereby entailing potential of deterioration in the overall sports ecosystem. Even if the present dispensation at the helm is insistent on carrying forward its move, then it would be advisable that rather than doing it in a piecemeal manner in forcing sports broadcasters to share more sporting events why doesn’t the Government nationalise at one go so there is clarity on sports broadcasting? This will also make Doordarshan the only sports broadcaster in the country and thus can ring-fence them from competition from private sports broadcasters!!

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