Media: Talk of the Trade: Olympic TV appeal fails

THE EUROPEAN Commission has been unable to help a satellite television company in its dispute with a group of state broadcasters over coverage of the Olympic Games.

The European Broadcasting Union, based in Geneva - which brings together 40 broadcasters, mostly state-run - holds the television rights to the games in Europe. Since 1987 some satellite television companies have been accusing it of operating an anti-competitive cartel and unfairly undermining the prospects of new channels.

Screensport, the UK-based satellite service, urged the EC to intervene in March, claiming that it was being denied access to Olympic footage and so, as a sports network seen by 30 million Europeans, was facing 'grave and irreparable' damage. The EC asked the EBU to provide Screensport with equal access to the Olympics, but this was rejected by the EBU, which argues that its members cover the entire EC, ensuring that sports coverage is freely available to all.

Seventeen members of the EBU, including the BBC, participate in the Eurosport satellite channel, a rival to Screensport. Eurosport was set up as an official outlet for EBU coverage, and to answer criticism that the EBU was failing to exploit its sporting rights fully.

The EBU says Eurosport has 20 million viewers across Europe. It is screening continuous Olympics coverage to complement that of the public-service broadcasters. This leaves Screensport with regular news coverage of the Olympics in hourly bulletins.

The EBU owns a range of sporting rights, and members exchange programmes. This can, in effect, shut out rivals from some big sporting events.