BBC calls for update to ‘crown jewels’ legislation

UK public-service broadcaster the BBC has called on the government to update media law to reflect the modern age as it warned it may lose rights to major sporting events “by the back door”.

The UK’s current ‘crown jewels’ legislation outlines that events such as the Olympic Games, Wimbledon tennis championships and football’s FA Cup final must be broadcast on channels that are available to 95 per cent of the population.

However, the law currently only includes live television and not consumption of content via devices such as mobile phones and tablets. Terrestrial broadcasters are said to fear a sharp drop in television ownership in the coming years, which could lead to their channels falling below the threshold.

UK newspaper The Telegraph said free-to-air terrestrial channels have joined forces to call for an amendment to the government's digital economy bill to reduce the threshold to 90 per cent. This would be comfortably high enough to avert the rights-purchasing threat posed by pay-television broadcasters.

The issue is set to be debated in the House of Lords next week. Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: “The legislation on which broadcasters qualify was written many years ago in an analogue era and must be updated to avoid it becoming defunct.

“Rather than risk the abolition of Listed Events ‘by the back door’, Government and Parliament should act to deliver a regime fit for the digital era and ensure that our great sporting moments continue to be available to everyone.”

David Clementi, the new chair of the BBC, last month called for a review of the crown jewels list, suggesting the debate over what constitutes a crown jewel event should be reopened.

The crown jewels list is governed by legislation and a voluntary code established in 2009, which was re-signed by the governing bodies of cricket, football, golf, tennis and rugby union and league in October.

Speaking in May, then-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, said that the government would not alter the crown jewels list. The events covered by the list include the Olympic Games, football’s Fifa World Cup and FA Cup knockout competitions, horse racing’s Grand National and Wimbledon, as well as several other tournaments.

There is also a designated B-list, which includes rugby union’s Six Nations, the Cricket World Cup and golf’s Ryder Cup, along with other events, for which only highlights are protected for free-to-air coverage.