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Important points 1994-1999




Tv sport must not be reserved for the privileged few


"Television without Frontiers" was one of the main issues of the last five years in the European Parliament on which passions really ran high. Parliament was unable to muster a large enough majority at second reading to beef up the rules on quotas for European radio and TV programmes, but managed to get its way on the need for "unencoded access broadcasting" of major national and international events such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup. There is fierce competition among public and private TV channels for the right to broadcast these events; consequently, costs are going through the roof. According to the French communications company France Télécom, 227 TV channels (with 40 billion viewers) were able to cover the last World Cup. The rights to show the next tournament, in Japan and Korea in 2002, have already been bought for more than EUR 762 million (excluding the USA).

The digital revolution

The stakes are thus very high indeed. As the number of TV channels increases thanks to the digital revolution, there is a growing danger that broadcasting rights for major events will be bought up by subscription channels which will show them only to their subscribers. Sport is one of the main attractions for public and private channels and has become a major lure for subscription channels. However, there can be no doubt that, in addition to truly worldwide events such as the Olympics, others, such as Wimbledon and the Tour de France, have become part of our common cultural heritage. The public thus quite reasonably expects to see these events on channels available to everyone. During the co-decision procedure, Parliament championed this cause and managed to extract guarantees for unencoded access broadcasting of certain major events.

Unencoded access: who decides?

Even after the principle of unencoded access had been accepted by the Council, the question of how to apply it had still to be decided. Was the Commission itself supposed to draw up a list of events for unencoded access or should this be up to the Member States? The first option had a number of drawbacks. Firstly, the Commission would find it difficult to compile a complete list which would take account of special national cases. Secondly, there was a major risk of complaints on lines "Europe is trying to regulate every last detail of our lives". As a result, the principle of mutual recognition was chosen, under which each Member State will draw up a list of national or other events which TV stations within its jurisdiction will not broadcast in encrypted form only. The territorial criterion is thus not where the event takes place but where it is broadcast. Nothing would prevent, say, the Austrian authorities including the World Skiing Cup in their list, regardless of where it was being held. At the beginning of 1999, the directive was well on the way to being incorporated into national law in the various Member States. Denmark has in fact completed the entire procedure and notified the Commission of its list of events for unencoded access. Apart from traditional events such as the summer and winter Olympic Games and the football World Cup and European Championship, it includes the world and European championships for handball, an important sport in Denmark.

It is also up to each Member State to decide whether an event should be broadcast live - in full or in part - or whether, for reasons such as a difference in time-zones, it can be broadcast later. Danish law gives a definition of free access: 90% of the population must be able to receive the broadcast without paying any extra costs or else the cost per viewer must not exceed 25 crowns a month on top of the TV licence and/or cable subscription. It also lays down rules on recorded broadcasts of these events, e.g. they must usually be broadcast within 24 hours. Penalties are provided for, from fines to a withdrawal of broadcasting permission.

The role of sport

In taking this action, which it could only do thanks to the process of dialogue which is part of the co-decision procedure, Parliament has had a clear practical impact on the everyday lives of EU citizens.

It has also raised the issue of sport's place in society and the need to acknowledge it as an important cultural, economic and social phenomenon. Although sport is not mentioned in the Amsterdam Treaty itself, there is a declaration on sport annexed to the treaty. A further step was taken by the Vienna European Council, which, in recognition of sport's social importance, asked the Commission to draw up a report by the time of the Helsinki summit with a view to safeguarding existing sporting arrangements and protecting the social role of sport in the Community.

On sport, as on many other issues, Parliament has acted as a think-tank and a forum for political debate. Its ideas are often the seeds which in the course of time bear fruit and are eventually taken up by all the Member States of the European Union.

For more information : Patrick BARAGIOLA (Tel. 0032-2-284 3251 or E-mail pbaragiola@europarl.eu.int


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