"The predictability of a law to survive is an assurance of its validity. This is possible only if the law is reasonably adaptable to human needs. To keep it stifled and caged may generate doubts that need to be answered favourably. The impact of change in the world of technology is so fierce and competitive that like a dress code, it is not the same at morning and at night. The law should therefore cater to both without compromising with other competing requirements."
The Madras High Court has directed the Central government to consider amendments to the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, that may allow Doordarshan to live stream 'sporting events of national importance', free of cost, on its Over The Top (OTT) platforms.
Under the Section 3 of the Act, Prasar Bharati is permitted to re-transmit feed of sporting events of national events, through its 'terrestrial network' and 'Direct-to-Home networks'.
Assailing the said provision, a PIL was filed by a Mumbai-based sound engineer, Adithya Modi, claiming that such a provision, restricting the modes of free transmission, impinges upon the fundamental rights of a citizen to receive information through internet services, including all forms thereof.
He had contended that citizens having access to the internet were being denied access to sports events of national importance because of the restriction in the sports broadcasting law. Thus, the provision was contended to be in teeth with the rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(a) read with Article 14 of the Constitution.
While making an observation to the contrary, a division bench comprising Chief Justice AP Sahi and Justice Subramonium Prasad has asked the government to "take an appropriate decision in the matter supported by cogent and plausible reasons preferably within three months."
The court said that the impugned provision was not violative of fundamental rights inasmuch as, such a prescription does not create any embargo on the rights of individuals and citizens.
"The question of restriction of the rights of the citizen to free information, in our opinion, is neither prohibited nor restricted, inasmuch as the transmission continues through the modes as contained in Section 3 of the 2007 Act," the court held.
The court explained that when the impugned provision was enacted, the said modes were the accepted modes of transmission and internet services did not have any wide reach then. Thus, the court observed,
"The technique which is now sought to be made the basis of challenge to the provisions of Section 3(1) of the 2007 Act are technological advancements that may not even have been available at the time of the enactment of the law in question. It is therefore not a deliberate omission on the part of the legislature."
However, the court did not blindside the importance of imbibing technological advancements in the compass of law. "There can be no gainsaying that the right to claim information through a particular electronic mode or App may by itself be not a fundamental right, but access to the internet is the norm and any restriction thereon has to be on the anvil as to whether any deviation can be allowed," it said.
The court then held that the issue in question was a subject matter of policy decision, to be undertaken by the government after examining various factors.
"This is a clear subject of policy decision to be undertaken by the Government after examining various factors, as this will involve not only the appreciation of the substantive rights being claimed by the petitioner, but also the procedural mechanism for dissemination of transmission that may be dependent on contracts and other statutory regulations governing transmissions," the court opined
"A future technology available, which is more easily accessible, may have other dimensions to be considered before being implanted in the Act itself and, therefore, it is not for the Court to strike down the existing modes on the ground that the other modern methods do not find place in the Act."
In its closing remarks, the court cautioned the govt. "to keep pace" with the fast changing technology.
"Laws of the nature presently involved are not moral principles of eternal value and therefore cannot claim immunity from change. This is more applicable where development in the scientific methods of application, particularly in electronics and communications that affects the entire global population be it in the remotest or busiest of areas, are witnessing a meteoric change every moment much faster than fashion and competing with man's imaginative power. These advancements outlive law and resist any form of unnecessary legal repression, and therefore a change may be the need of the hour."
Case Title: Adithya Modi v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: WP Nos. 19816 & 19822 of 2019
Quorum: Chief Justice AP Sahi and Justice Subramonium Prasad
Appearance: Advocate Karthik Seshadri for M/s.Guru Dhananjay (for Petitioner); Senior Panel Counsel Sunita Kumari (for Respondents)