Fireworks over nets’ coverage in Sydney

Packer threatens an injunction against ABC

Already sparring over looming digital TV laws, millennium and Olympic fever has put Australia’s mercurial media moguls in a litigious mood.

Top of the list is a major row over coverage of the New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza in Sydney, which will be the globe’s first major capital to hail the new millennium.

Kerry Packer’s Nine Network has threatened an injunction against pubcaster ABC and is said to be considering legal action against international broadcasters who use extended footage of the event sourced from other parties.

That’s because Nine has sponsored Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks for five years in return for exclusive rights, while ABC is a member of an international consortium of broadcasters, including Britain’s BBC and America’s ABC, which will broadcast a day-long international millennium telecast.

America’s NBC is said to be considering a telecast from the Sydney Opera House (which will also host the ABC/BBC telecast). Nine is concerned that Kerry Stokes’ Seven web, NBC’s Oz ally, could use NBC’s footage and ruin its exclusivity.

“We made a commitment to spend millions over five years, and it’s our pictures that have gone around the world,” Nine millennium telecast executive producer Steve Wood told local papers. “It’s getting a bit nasty.”

“Sydney has the fireworks display the world wants to see,” ABC exec director of millennium events David Leonard countered. “Nowhere else in the world is there a squeeze like this being put on a New Year’s Eve celebration.”

Not to be left out of the legal action, Stokes threatened to sue the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games for “inadequate financial compensation in return for the diminished value of our TV and sponsorship rights” after several organizational bungles, including allegations that SOCOG sold blocks of tickets to Packer contrary to the terms of Seven’s Olympic broadcast and sponsorship deal.

Meantime, coin-challenged local pubcaster ABC is facing threats of strikes by staff, after the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Community and Public Sector Union advised their members to reject a proposed 12% pay hike spread over three years in return for wider responsibilities.

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