Wondering why some of the television news coverage of Olympic competition looks more like a slideshow?

Australian networks — like other non-rights broadcasters around the world — are strategically programming the scraps of footage they’re allowed to play each day. Many programs over the weekend and today have resorted to using still images to illustrate their reports.

Crikey has been told the International Olympic Committee polices its news access rules with force, lawyering up to tackle any broadcast which breaches the strict rules. The IOC states:

“The broadcast of Olympic Material may be used only as a part of regularly scheduled daily news programs of which the actual news element constitutes the main feature (‘News Programs’). News Programs shall not be positioned or promoted as Olympic or London 2012 programs and Olympic Material cannot be used in any promotion for any News Program or any other program whatsoever.”

So how much do Seven, Ten, the ABC, SBS and cable news have to play with? Just six minutes per day — across all programs and platforms. Further:

a) Olympic Material may appear in no more than three (3) News Programs per day; and
b) No more than two (2) minutes of Olympic Material may be used in any one News Program; and
c) These News Programs must be separated by a period of at least three (3) hours; and
d) No more than one third of any individual event may be used in any one News Programs or 30 seconds, whichever is the lesser time. However, if the duration of an individual Olympic event is less than 15 seconds the whole of the event can be shown in a News Program.

Sky News and ABC News 24 are particularly hard hit with their rolling coverage; ABC news presenters were making a point yesterday of informing viewers their hands were tied. For “all-news or all-sports networks” the rules state footage can be used:

“… in no more than six (6) news programs per day and does not exceed a total of one (1) minute in any one program. These bulletins must be separated by a period of at least two (2) hours.”

Plus, networks have to sit on footage for at least three hours after the host broadcaster has shown the event. If the rights-holding network doesn’t air the footage, non-rights holders must wait until the end of the broadcast day. And the footage that is aired must carry an on-screen credit to the local rights holder — no covering up those prominent watermarks in the top of the screen.

Don’t like it? You can always seek “specific written agreement of the local rights holding broadcaster”. We’re guessing Australian broadcasters Nine and Foxtel won’t be considering such requests kindly …