News Corp has stepped up the pressure on the Howard Government over the review of the anti-siphoning rules governing major sporting events with its stinging attack on the free-to-air broadcasters.

While today’s Age points out that News owns 25% of Foxtel, News had a much wider interest in the review of the anti-siphoning laws now under way.

News is a 50% owner of the National Rugby League, and in September the chief executives of the AFL, NRL and Soccer issued a joint statement strongly supporting the introduction of a “use it or lose it” clause in the anti-siphoning laws.

The football codes believe they will have greater say over the telecasting of games if a straight forward “use it or lose it” clause was mandatory for all FTA agreements for the events covered by the anti-siphoning laws.

And today News Corp has thrown its considerable political weight behind them, claiming the FTA broadcasters are “deliberately misleading” Australian viewers on anti-siphoning.

Rugby league fans are penalised more by the current weak anti-siphoning laws than AFL fans, but the real losers are soccer and rugby union fans.

The AFL, however, has done more than other codes to increase FTA coverage. When the new AFL agreement with Seven and Ten comes into operation next year, just about all premiership matches will be shown live on FTA, with three or four games being shown live.

But the NRL has been much less successful in its new deal with Nine. Of the eight matches each weekend, just one will be shown live, while two will be on delay on FTA television.

I have little confidence there will be substantial reform of the anti-siphoning laws. The FTA channels were the real winners from the recent overall changes to media laws. But isn’t it someone else’s turn? Like viewers?

I doubt it. The major sporting codes should have been far more aggressive in lobbying for a watertight “use it or lose it” provision.

They should have been encouraging the millions of frustrated fans of all codes to lobby federal members and senators – a well meaning, even tough, press statement is not enough.

It is reported today that the new guidelines will be announced in the coming weeks. Long-suffering viewers may live in hope – but without much confidence.

Peter Fray

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