Murdoch Wades Into Free Sport Debate After Dummy Spit Yesterday By Foxtel Boss

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After Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein threw a dummy spit yesterday his boss Rupert Murdoch is today having a crack at trying to take sport away from free to air TV networks so that he can charge Australians to watch AFL and NRL games.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is not copping any of the Murdoch/Freudenstein spin claiming that “All Australians have the right to watch top sporting events on free-to-air television” he clasimed that this is a “very Australian arrangement” that should be protected.

 Turnbull said that his decision to keep key sports rights ringfenced for free-to-air broadcasters ensured a “fair go” for all Australians.

Mr Murdoch has criticised Mr Turnbull’s decision to omit changes to sports rights arrangements from his media reform proposals to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, accusing him of pandering to his “buddies” at free-to-air network owner Nine Entertainment Co.

The chairman of News Corp, which owns 50 per cent of local cable TV monopoly Foxtel, wrote on social media site Twitter on Monday morning: “Aust! Turnbull’s plans to scrap certain rules suit buddies at Nine. Can’t oppose dumping all regs but not this. Nice to see how MT plays.”

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Turnbull gave a robust defence of his decision, saying ordinary Australians should still be able to watch major sporting events like the AFL and Olympics for free.

“The policy question for government is simply whether we want to continue with a free-to-air television system where ordinary Australians, who may not be able afford a Foxtel subscription, can nonetheless watch their favourite sport on free to air TV?” Mr Turnbull said.

“This is a very Australian arrangement. In many countries, pay TV has been able to secure the rights to major sporting codes thus requiring sports fans to pay for a subscription.

“Our arrangements, which are very long-standing and are amended from time to time, strike a balance between egalitarianism and our sense of a fair go on the one hand and strict economic rationalism on the other.”

Mr Turnbull said he had “encouraged” free-to-air broadcasters, pay TV and sport organisations to work together to see if they could agree on areas of reform. “To date they have not been able to do so,” he said.

Foxtel had called for the anti-siphoning list of 1300 sporting events – currently reserved for free-to-air television – to be trimmed to allow the pay TV company to bid directly for the rights to show the preliminary rounds of overseas tournaments such as Wimbledon and the US Masters Golf. It currently has to buy any sports rights it gets from free-to-air owners if they are wiling to sell.

The minister also scotched suggestions by News Corp Australia CEO Julian Clarke and Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein that Foxtel customers would be forced to pay more as results of changes Mr Turnbull has proposed to retransmission arrangements.

“It would only mean that pay TV companies would have to seek permission from the free-to-air networks in order to rebroadcast their signal, just as, in fact, a free to air broadcaster would need to seek permission from Foxtel to rebroadcast one of its channels,” said Mr Turnbull.

“The idea that the free to airs would demand a fee for such retransmission is hypothetical and in my view most unlikely.”
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