The Bombay High Court Thursday quashed an order by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) that imposed a fine of Rs five lakh on TV Today network for alleged “viewership malpractice” and violation of the Council’s code of conduct.
The BARC order was based on a show-cause notice to TV Today, alleging that there was “a significant abnormal jump” in the daily average reach of its channels without any distribution improvement. It had said that the same may be due to influencing the panel households which was strictly prohibited by the Code of Conduct related to redressing viewership malpractices.
A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Milind N Jadhav passed order on November 5 on TV Today’s plea against a July 31 BARC Disciplinary Council order and warning letter imposing the deposit on the network after BARC’s counsel told the court that it was ready to give the company a fresh hearing. TV Today had also sought interim protection against any possible coercive action by the BARC against it.
Senior Counsel Veerendra Tulzapurkar along with advocates Abhinav Chandrachud, Munaf Virjee and Akash Agarwal for the petitioner argued that the Disciplinary Council did not have appropriate quorum when the order was passed and therefore it needed to be set aside.
Senior advocate Gopal Jain and advocate Ashish Kamat for BARC told the court that there is a new Code of Conduct for ‘Redressing Viewership Malpractices’ and that the BARC was not averse to giving fresh hearing to the TV Today Network. The BARC lawyers had also raised preliminary objection and said that the plea was not maintainable before the writ jurisdiction of the High Court.
Senior Counsel Tulzapurkar for petitioner also expressed willingness to appear before the Disciplinary Council for the fresh hearing.
In light of these submissions, the bench noted, “As a consequence of this consensus, the petition is disposed of by quashing and setting aside the impugned orders and that the petitioner will appear before the Disciplinary Council on the date assigned. Order accordingly.”
The HC on October 27 directed TV Today Network Ltd to deposit with it the Rs 5 lakh imposed on it by the BARC in lieu of protection from possible coercive action.
Senior Counsel Tulzapurkar urged that the amount deposited be refunded to the petitioner, which the court accepted and said, “Considering the fact that the Petition is disposed of in the above circumstances and that the amount was deposited pursuant to the interim order, the request made by the Petitioner is reasonable. The Petitioner is permitted to withdraw the amount of Rs. 5 lakh stated to be deposited in the Registry of this Court.”
The bench added, “We make it clear we have not gone into the merits of the case and we leave the issue of maintainability (of the plea) open.”
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