The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Competition Commission of India (CCI) not to take any coercive action against three broadcasters and media and entertainment companies (petitioners) –Asianet Star Communications Pvt Ltd, Disney Broadcasting (India) Pvt Ltd and Star India Pvt Ltd. – in furtherance of an order initiating investigation against such companies.
A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Madhav Jamdar ordered the CCI not to pass any orders in furtherance of its investigation based on a complaint by Asianet Digital Network Pvt Ltd (ADNPL).
The court said: “The CCI is not to pass any further orders or to adjudicate further on the complaint (in which the order under challenge is passed) until further orders of the Court. The CCI is not to permit or direct any coercive actions against the petitioners until the next date.”
The HC directed the petitioners to furnish to the Director General of CCI the documentary material called for in response to the queries in furtherance of the order, on a without prejudice and no-equities basis. The Director General was also ordered to keep the information collected by him confidential as required by law until the next hearing date.
The HC was hearing petitions filed by three broadcasters and media and entertainment companies challenging the order of the CCI, passed on February 28, 2022, based on a complaint by ADNPL. The CCI had directed its Director General to initiate investigation based on a complaint by ADNPL.
ADNPL, which is in the business of distribution of TV channels to customers through local cable operators predominantly in Kerala, had contended in its complaint that broadcasters such as the petitioners, must not have discriminatory pricing in commercial contracts with multi-service operators such as ADNPL. It referred to the regulations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) which prohibit discriminatory pricing in commercial contracts with multi-service operators.
Senior Advocate Darius Khambata, appearing for Star India, submitted that the order was bad and cannot be sustained.
Advocate Somsekhar Sundaresan appearing for CCI, opposed the petition on the point of jurisdiction stating that since the entire issue arose in Kerala, the challenge ought to have been in a court of Kerala.
Senior Advocate Navroz Seervai, appearing for ADNPL, argued that the petitioners were subverting the TRAI/TDSAT norms causing prejudice to it.
The HC opined that CCI ought to be given an opportunity to place its case before the Court along with the complainant.
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