THE Privy Council has dismissed the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha radio station’s challenge for more compensation for the unequal treatment and the delay in granting it a broadcast licence.
In a written decision delivered yesterday, Lords Kerr, Sumption, Carnwath, Hodge and Black dismissed the appeal of the Central Broadcasting Services Ltd (CBSL), saying there was an “air of unreality” in the case.
In a landmark judgment on February 5, 2004, Justice Carlton Best had ruled that there was unequal treatment in CBSL’s application in relation to Citadel Ltd. The matter was appealed. The Court of Appeal also found there was unequal treatment.
The Maha Sabha sought further redress at the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee ruled, on July 4, 2006, that the State had discriminated against the Maha Sabha and held that its constitutional right to freedom of expression was violated.
The Privy Council ordered the State to grant the licence to the Maha Sabha forthwith. But the Maha Sabha was not awarded the licence until September 22 that year.
An assessment of damages was done by Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh in 2009, and the State was ordered to pay close to $3 million in compensatory and vindicatory damages.
The radio station again appealed against the level of the award of compensatory damages as well as for legal costs for only two lawyers.
In its challenge, CBSL complained that the judge failed to accept its estimate of a rapid increase in net profits by 160 per cent in the second year of operation. It claimed that gross income was estimated to expand by 24 per cent while costs were estimated to rise by 10.6 per cent.
The judge, in his ruling, instead took as a reasonable projection a 20 per cent increase in profitability after the first year of operation and an increase of ten per cent in the following years.
The station’s chairman Sat Maharaj and chief executive Devant Maharaj produced an estimated income statement for CBSL for 2001-2006. CBSL estimated that in the year ending December 2001 it would, if operating, have earned a net profit of $245,400, increasing to $639,793 in 2002 and climbing to $1,177,217 in 2006. CBSL also produced its corporation tax return for its first year of trading in 2007, which showed a net profit of $412,461.
In their ruling, the UK judges said the judge recognised and took into account there was increased competition in the Hindu listening market by 2007 and that it would have caused more difficulty in winning market share. “He also recorded the religious nature of the majority of the content of the broadcasts of CBSL’s radio station.
“There appears to have been no evidence that the other Hindu radio stations had the same religious focus as CBSL, which was the product of its association with the SDMS, and which would have given it a particular niche in the listening market.”