White Paper on the BBC: Viewers 'should have guaranteed access to main sporting events'

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The Independent Online
VIEWERS should have guaranteed access to national sporting events such as the Wimbledon finals, the FA Cup Final and the Derby, and satellite pay channels should not be allowed to buy them up for exclusive broadcast on pay channels, a report from the National Heritage select committee, published yesterday, says.

The committee says that the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which ruled that the eight 'listed' events could not be included on any future pay-per-view service, did not go far enough in protecting the interests of ordinary viewers who do not have the money or inclination to subscribe.

The law should be amended to ensure that they could not be confined to a subscription service. The recommendation is a critical blow for Sky Sport and other satellite and cable operators who are expected to bid for key sporting events to build up subscribers. So far no network has launched a pay-per-view service.

The all-party committee on sports sponsorship and television coverage chaired by Gerald Kaufman says: 'The Broadcasting Act may have been inadequately or imprecisely drafted and the intent may have been to prevent the exclusive purchase of listed events . . . if that was not the intention it should have been. The committee therefore recommends that exclusivity in transmission of listed sporting events should be prohibited not only for pay-for-view services but also for subscription services.' It says the list of events should be kept under review.

It adds that satellite television launched in 1989 has had an immense impact on sport, providing ball-by-ball overseas test match coverage since 1990 and 60 live Premier League football games in the 1993-94 season, with more sport than ever being broadcast.

However, it does not appear that the increased coverage has been matched by a similar increase in viewers: Sky Sports live Sunday afternoon matches averaged 811,000 viewers, while the loss of free universal access which occurs when sports subscription channels outbid mainstream terrerstrial channels 'will be felt by viewers who lack the means to pay'.

The committee is also highly critical of tobacco sponsorship. It recommends no further sporting events should be broadcast by any terrestrial channel once existing contracts have expired. It says that the BBC, which currently transmits about 250 hours of tobacco- sponsored sport annually, should follow the higher ground set by ITV.

This would leave a loophole for satellite channels, which are under international control: the committee says there should be talks on ending tobacco sponsorship throughout European television.

'It is wrong for the BBC to relate tobacco to health-giving activities participated in by people whom young people emulate and admire,' Mr Kaufman said yesterday launching the report. The BBC responded that some events had been sponsored by tobacco companies for 25 years and it would be wrong to deprive viewers of them, although the BBC is encouraging the organisers to seek alternative non-tobacco sponsors.

The report also urges that ways should be found of bringing more sponsorship money back into the sport to benefit young athletes.

The committee has harsh words for the state of boxing. It recommends that the British Boxing Board of Control should introduce rules to prevent the promoters of televised events owning the contracts of the boxers.

The BBC spent pounds 90m on sport last year, ITV pounds 37m, Channel 4 pounds 14.4m and BSkyB pounds 59m.

Sports Sponsorship and Television Coverage; National Heritage Committee; HMSO; pounds 11.

LISTED EVENTS

The eight events not permitted to be shown on pay-per view television are:

Cricket test matches involving England The Derby The FIFA world cup finals The FA Cup Final The Grand National The Olympic Games The finals week of Wimbledon In Scotland: the Scottish FA Cup final

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