(Stefan Rousseau/PA)
22 August 2022

Government must ensure major sporting events remain free-to-air, say BBC and ITV

22 August 2022

Major sporting events such as the football World Cup and Olympic Games risk going behind a paywall unless the Government passes new legislation, the bosses of the BBC and ITV have warned.

In a letter published in The Daily Telegraph, the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie and Dame Carolyn McCall, chief executive of ITV, said such events must be “available to all – free of charge” if they are to inspire the next generation.

They noted that British media legislation has not been updated since 2003 and that “urgent changes are required”.

We urge the Government to deliver these key proposals to secure a successful future in a thriving British media and digital ecology

In April, the Government’s White Paper, launched by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, proposed a series of changes to protect UK broadcasters against the growth of international streaming giants.

Among those were measures designed to ensure “sporting events of national interest” such as the Wimbledon finals and Grand National are shown on free-to-air TV channels.

The legal framework for showing such events was established in 1996 at a time when only 4% of UK households had access to the internet, the paper noted.

The letter, also signed by the bosses of Channel 5, STV and S4C, said: “To inspire the next generation of Lionesses we need major sporting events to be available to all – free of charge, not hidden behind a paywall.

Tim Davie (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

“We need to enable viewers to watch their favourites, such as the Fifa World Cup and Olympic and Paralympic Games, both live and on demand.

“Key elements of the Government’s proposed Media Bill will support public service broadcasters to provide consumers with trusted, impartial news and to stimulate investment in the creative economy.

“Recent events, like the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee reminded us of the importance of public service broadcasting.

“We urge the Government to deliver these key proposals to secure a successful future in a thriving British media and digital ecology.”

According to those who signed the letter, new legislation is “vital” to ensure their streaming services, which include iPlayer and ITVX, are “always available and easy to find” on smart televisions.

The letter was not signed by Channel 4, which faces privatisation under the Media Bill.

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “There is a vital need to update the UK’s decades-old broadcasting regulations to help our public service broadcasters compete and have successful and sustainable futures in the digital age.

“We set out our position in April with a number of proposals to be included in a media bill.”

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