Days after the I&B ministry revoked permission to Zee Media Corporation Ltd for simultaneously uplinking 10 Zee network channels in Ku Band on GSAT-15 satellite and C Band, Zee has moved the Delhi High Court for the order to be quashed. The revocation of permission meant that these Zee channels would no longer be free-to-air.
In its petition, Zee said the ministry’s order was in “violation of the principles of natural justice” and done “without application of mind.” It asked the court for a stay on the order and the restoration of status quo.
The court listed the matter to be heard by a division bench on October 6.
On Friday, the I&B ministry had revoked permission for free-to-air telecast of Zee Hindustan, Zee Rajasthan, Zee Punjab Haryana Himachal, Zee Bihar Jharkhand, Zee Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh, Zee Uttar Pradesh Uttarakhand, Zee Salam, Zee 24 Kalak, Zee 24 Taas, and Zee Odisha.
The ministry noted that Zee was in violation of the Policy Guidelines for Uplinking and the Policy Guidelines for Downlinking and so it was revoking the permission “to provide a level playing field to all the stakeholders in the TV channel industry”.
In March, Newslaundry reported that ABP, TV9 and Network 18 had approached the ministry against the Zee network, claiming it illegally managed to put its news channels on DD Free Dish without participating in auctions and paying for the slots. They alleged that this undermining of due process increased Zee network’s reach among millions of viewers, pushed up its TRPs, and gave it an “unfair advantage”.
In April, Doordarshan wrote to the Broadcast Audience Research Council for action against the Zee channels which hadn’t been allotted slots on the DD Free Dish by Prasar Bharati but were still available on free-to-air set top boxes.
But in its petition filed before the high court, Zee alleged that the complaint on the basis of which the order was passed had not been shared with Zee, thus putting them at a “grave disadvantage” as they were “unable to exercise their right to a free and fair hearing.”
The media group added that when it requested access to these documents, the ministry denied the same without offering a reason for denial.
‘Directions prejudicial to the business of Zee’
Zee said the I&B ministry’s directions to Dish TV were “very serious in nature,” highly prejudicial to the business of Zee and have far-reaching consequences. Still, Zee said it had not been given time to pursue legal remedies against what it alleged was a “draconian order” and claimed that the order was actuated by “malice” and was aimed to cause unlawful loss to Zee and unlawful gains to its competitors.
Zee’s competitors, when approaching the ministry, had claimed that the unauctioned channels have put “an additional leverage of Rs 130-140 crores to Zee Media group” and the loss to Prasar Bharti due to Zee’s moves, networks alleged, goes beyond Rs 100 crore.
According to Zee, that the decision to grant permission was given by the government on October 31, 2019 and was taken after “due application of mind on the extant policy.'' Therefore, it alleged that there was no reason in the recent order asking to remove it that said why it had now taken a “volte-face” except that it was given by mistake.
Zee alleged that the government had passed the directive after being influenced by the rivals of Zee, without there being a new, fresh, and cogent reason to review or change its stance.
The news network further claimed that the government had always held out “by its conduct” that the simultaneous uplinking of TV channels in C band and Ku band wasn’t prohibited, and that the very fact that permission was granted by the same in 2019 meant that it was not.
Zee said in its petition that the government failed to consider that the way to ensure that the TV channels of Zee are not received on DD Free Dish is simply directing Prasar Bharti to comply with direct-to-home guidelines. Prasar Bharti encrypting signals will ensure Zee’s TV channels are not received on DD Free Dish.
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