Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Don Foster Urges Commons Discussion Over BBC/Sky Deal

An update on the BBC/Sky deal from Liberal Democrat Don Foster below. Source bathlibdems

Don Foster MP urges House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to discuss F1 broadcasting deal

September 27, 2011 12:18 PM

Loyal Formula One fans are justifiably outraged by the situation in which the BBC has left many licence fee payers following the BBC and BskyB formula one deal.

Many people remain, understandably, concerned about the lack of accountability and unclear circumstances that resulted in a deal, that they believe was not done in the best interest of licence fee payers and fans. There remain many unanswered questions.

What happened?

In early September, Don Foster MP wrote to the BBC's Mark Thompson and Formula One Management chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. He was primarily "concerned that F1 fans in the UK, who are also licence fee payers, had no one speaking up for what was in their interests." Particularly discomforting were the claims that the BBC was the main facilitator of the end result. The apparent discrepancies between the accounts given by FOM and the BBC of what happened - and even changes to those accounts - has done little to help the situation.

Following publication of Don's letters numerous complaints appeared on the BBC blogs. However, it appears that the BBC deleted many comments on the basis that they were 'off topic'. Why did the BBC quickly downgrade the prominence of the debate and not allow an open forum for discussion and debate?

Recent developments

Don's letters have successfully triggered a round of private discussions with those involved in the deal, including between Don and Bernie Ecclestone.

Don is shortly to have a meeting with the BBC's Head of Sports.

To date, none of the key players (BBC, F1 and BSkyB) are publicly commenting on the grounds that they are unable to release commercially sensitive information.

However, the BBC has made clear that it has had to respond to a significant cut in its Licence Fee income and the requirements placed on it to fund services (such as the World Service and S4C) which were previously funded directly by the government.

But questions remain.

In particular, did the way the BBC do a deal with BSkyB prevent other free-to-air broadcasters (ITV, C4 and C5) bidding to to a similar deal?

The BBC has said, it did not block any other broadcaster from submitting a bid for the rights to F1 either on their own or in conjunction with another broadcaster...Bidding for the rights in conjunction with Sky was in the best interests of all licence fee payers given the need to deliver a balanced portfolio of sporting events.

This is contrary to Bernie Ecclestone's earlier claims that BBC 'held all the cards', He has quickly abandoned his line of argument claiming we would have loved to have stayed with the BBC but they could guarantee nothing (Quoted in the Express). As such, a deal without BskyB was 'not realistic'. This has merely added to the confusion.

The future

Don will meet with the Head of BBC Sports but, as with his discussions with Bernie Ecclestone, it may be that he is barred from making public the outcome.

It is hoped that when the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee meets, in the near future, with Mark Thompson and the BBC Trust chairman, Lord Patten, to discuss governance issues, questions will be asked about the F1 deal. However, this is a matter for the committee on which Don Foster does NOT sit and, currently, the indications are that the matter may well NOT be raised.

Don Foster has written to the Chairman of the Committee, John Whittingdale MP, asking that the issue is discussed. Don also hopes that - with pressure from their own constituents - other MPs will do likewise.

If you want to help, please contact your own MP asking him / her to write to the Select Committee Chair, John Whittingdale MP, and ensure the F1 broadcasting deal is discussed at the next House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee.

You can find out who your MP is by clicking this link and entering your postcode: 

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