SYDNEY — After months of debate, Communications Minister Helen Coonan released new guidelines on Wednesday that outline her “use it or lose it” approach to Oz laws ensuring that certain sports remain on free-to-air TV.
The anti-siphoning list contains more than 1,000 “events of national interest,” mainly sports, that cannot be shown by feevee. Coonan has been promising for some time to overhaul the restrictive laws.
Under the new rules, an event need only be shown to half of the Aussie population or broadcast “near live” — within an hour of its commencement — to keep it off feevee. Previously, events didn’t need to be aired at all to remain the province of free webs.
The Australian Communications & Media Authority also will report to the government on which sports are aired by the free channels so the list can be altered accordingly.
“The rules are designed to ensure the anti-siphoning list works the way it was intended and does not produce the perverse effect of reducing rather than increasing the total availability of sport to consumers on both free-to-air and pay television,” said Coonan.
She added a further caveat to protect the free webs: “It is not intended that failing only one of the guidelines will result in a decision that an event has not been ‘used’ and hence will be ‘lost.’ Rather, a broadcaster’s treatment of an event will be considered against the guidelines as a whole.”
Listed events that do not receive adequate attention may be considered for permanent or partial removal from the anti-siphoning list.
The new approach was immediately criticized by feevee body Astra.
“This is not yet the substantial reform the minister had promised,” said Astra topper Nick Greiner. “It is a small step forward. We are concerned that sports fans may still be prevented from watching live sport because of over-regulation of subscription TV and the great advantage that is still preserved for free-to-air TV, which can dictate terms to sports fans, sports codes and subscription TV.”
The whole issue of the anti-siphoning laws has been heated in recent months, with both feevee and free webs launching ad campaigns to woo viewer support on the issue and both sides lobbying the government at every opportunity.
There is a lot to lose, given the sports-mad Aussie auds; games such as Australian Rules football, cricket and tennis garner auds in excess of 2 million.
The new rules take effect Jan. 1.