IOC criticises Australian anti-siphoning plan

The International Olympic Committee has joined other sports bodies in criticising the Australian government’s proposed new listed events, or ‘anti-siphoning’, laws.

The IOC said that existing laws have an adverse impact on television rights negotiations for the Olympic Games and are based on the “simplistic and wrong” assumption that Australian viewers would be deprived of free-to-air coverage of the Games without an anti-siphoning scheme. The governing body added that proposed updates to the laws would lead to television rights being further devalued.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s new anti-siphoning bill was introduced to parliament last month and is currently being debated at a Senate committee.

The Australian newspaper, citing the IOC’s submission to the Senate committee, said the IOC believes the bill has the “real risk of adversely impacting” the value it gets from selling television rights to future Olympic Games. “Anti-siphoning laws of the kind currently included in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and as proposed under the bill are inherently and self-evidently anti-competitive,” the IOC said. “By effectively appointing the free-to-air television broadcasters to the powerful position as ‘gatekeeper’ of the television rights to listed sporting events, laws such as these operate to the commercial detriment of sporting organisations.”

The laws, which are subject to extensive consultations, will give Conroy the ability to designate groups of events that must be televised on free-to-air channels for a certain number of hours. The new regulations increase the number of events that pay-television companies can bid for, but retain rules saying that free-to-air channels are able to bid first for a range of events including the Olympics.

The IOC’s concerns were echoed by other sporting bodies. The Australian Football League, the country’s top Aussie rules championship, and Cricket Australia, the sport’s governing body in the country, said the anti-siphoning plans could jeopardise their future by undermining the value of commercial rights. The Football Federation Australia governing body also expressed its opposition the proposals.

Telecommunications company Telstra criticised the decision to include new media rights in the anti-siphoning policy. The telco said the scheme would result in additional costs for consumers. The bill includes a proposal that free-to-air networks must offer unused rights to other free-to-air broadcasters. If there is no interest, the rights would then be offered to pay-television broadcasters. However, these provisions of the bill cover rights to “televise live,” which Telstra claims excludes companies from securing unused new media rights.