Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 13:31 UK

Free-to-air TV sport reconsidered

England Test match
Domestic Test match cricket is not on the list of protected events

The list of sporting events reserved for free-to-air television is to be reviewed, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.

He told a Royal Television Society conference in London it was time to look at whether the right events were protected to serve the public interest.

He said it was vital the list "moves with the times and people's tastes".

The list of so-called sporting "crown jewels" was last reviewed 10 years ago when Test match cricket was removed.

Mr Burnham said sports broadcasting was "one of the most powerful areas where that sense of community through television is most profoundly felt".

"It is because I believe in television's social role - its power to include and involve - that I continue to believe resolutely in the principle of a protected list of sporting events set by the government," he said.

"But it is also important that this list moves with the times and people's tastes, ensuring that TV continues to bring the nation together and build community."

All competitive games involving home nations should be free to air in that country
Michael Brunskill
Football Supporters' Federation

He said the independent review would "weigh the public interest with the demands and discipline of the market and the implications for the funding and development of individual sports".

World Cup qualifiers

In 1998, the government added certain events to the list of crown jewels - or A list - those deemed too important to be restricted to people with satellite or cable television.

They included the European Football Championship finals, the Rugby League Challenge Cup final and the Rugby Union World Cup final.

Already on the list were events including the Olympic Games, Wimbledon and the Grand National.

Olympic Games
Fifa World Cup Finals
European Football Championships
FA Cup Final
Scottish FA Cup Final
Wimbledon (finals weekend)
The Grand National
The Derby
Rugby League Challenge Cup Final
Rugby World Cup Final

Domestic Test cricket was relegated to the B list, allowing subscription broadcasters to bid for the right to screen matches, provided there were satisfactory arrangements in place for secondary coverage by a terrestrial broadcaster.

Recently, a row broke out over the screening of football World Cup qualifiers, particularly England's away game earlier this month against Croatia.

Paid-for channel Setanta, which owned the rights to the match, could not agree a deal to sell its highlights package to the BBC or ITV.

That meant just 290,000 people saw highlights, compared with audiences of up to 2.5 million in the past.

Gordon Brown said he sympathised with supporters' concerns.

"It is perhaps a little unfortunate that large numbers of people were not able to see the match live," he said.

Mr Burnham said more details about the review would be announced shortly and the results would be expected some time next year.

Michael Brunskill, from the Football Supporters' Federation, told the BBC News website he was pleased with the review.

"Football is our national sport and any fan will tell you he wants to see the national team play," he said.

"All competitive games involving home nations should be free to air in that country."

Cricket Test matches played in England
Non-finals at Wimbledon
Six Nations Rugby matches (involving home nations)
All other Rugby World Cup matches
Commonwealth Games
World Athletics Championship
Cricket World Cup (finals, semi-finals and matches involving home nations)
The Open Golf Championship
The Ryder Cup


The culture secretary also said the government would speed up the ongoing review of public service broadcasting.

Ofcom is currently running a consultation, but Mr Burnham said that rather than wait for its recommendations in the New Year, the government would press ahead now with discussions about possible changes to policy.

Among the proposals is a plan to share the BBC's licence fee revenue with other commercial broadcasters like ITV and Channel 4.

Mr Burnham said: "All options are open at the moment, but it is important that we are all prepared to accept we have to make trade-offs."

Ofcom has warned that without changes to funding, the BBC could become the only provider of regional and children's programming - something which would be detrimental to broadcasting as a whole.

But Mr Burnham said: "Public service broadcasting is not fatally damaged. Ofcom's report is a prescription, not the last rites."

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