3 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Government to Protect Major Events from Pay-Per-View
29 Oct 1998 :

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Sile deValera, announced yesterday (28/10/98) that the Government had accepted her proposals for legislation to ensure major events remain available on free to air television services.

The proposals, which will give effect to the Article 3a of the 'Television without Frontiers Directive' will enable the Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, to draw up a list of events which are considered to be of major importance to society. The Minister pointed out that there has been concern for some time both at national and European level that, with the liberalisation of the regulatory regimes relating to broadcasting in Europe, television coverage of events of major importance to society might migrate from traditional free to air broadcasters to television services supplied on a subscription or pay-per-view basis. As a result of these concerns a new Article 3a was inserted into the Television without Frontiers Directive. The article provides that Member States may designate certain events as events of major importance to society and take measures to ensure that broadcasters do not exercise their rights to such events in a way that would deprive a substantial proportion of the population in that Member state from the opportunity to follow the events via free to air television.

The Minister has recognised that while the proposals will provide for the designation of cultural events in addition to sporting events, it is inevitable that the potential migration of sports events to pay-per-view or subscription television is the area which causes most public concern as it has always played an important part in the development of Irish society and culture. There is a strong public interest in ensuring that certain premier national and non-national events are available to the public on television services which are free at the point of reception and which are provided on a universal coverage basis or as to that concept as is practically possible.

The legislative proposals, when enacted, will enable the Minister in consultations with the Minister for Tourism, Sports and Recreation, the public and event organisers to draw up a list of events to be so designated. The proposal will require the Minister to take into account the extent to which the event has a special general resonance for Irish people and has a generally recognised distinct cultural importance for Irish people. Decisions will also have to be made as to whether the event should be available to free to air television on a live or deferred basis and whether the coverage should be on a whole or partial basis.

In keeping with Article 3a of the 'Television without Frontiers Directive', the proposals will provide that broadcasters who are not "qualified broadcasters" under the proposals and who acquire exclusive rights to designated event will be required to make the event available at reasonable rates to a broadcaster who does have the status of a qualifying broadcaster under the legisalation. For an initial three year period, RTE, TnaG and TV3 will be deemed to be qualifying broadcasters. After that the proposals envisage that a qualifying broadcaster will have to provide free to air service to at least 95% coverage threshold. However to avoid the proposals being used in an anti-competitive fashion, where the 95% coverage threshold reduces the number of qualifying broadcasters to only two, a broadcaster with 90% coverage will qualify.

The Minister also said that she accepted that pay-per-view television was already a fact of life and unlikely to go away and that the changes taking place in the world of sport have the potential to radically affect national and international events which are outside the scope of the proposals. The proposal itself will ensure access to certain premier events which have already established themselves as being of major importance to society here.

Michael McMahon 29/10/98

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