Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for February 18th, 2011

TV and events of ‘major importance for society’

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(Once again we have the pleasure of publishing a contribution by Pablo Ibañez Colomo.  It seems that the future of broadcasting rights is being decided in Luxembourg, and as he did last week when  Kokott´s opinion was issued, Pablo is sharing with us his views on the latest Judgment in this area).

More on TV rights this week. In Cases T-385/07, T-55/08 and T-68/08, the General Court dismissed an annulment action against a Commission Decision declaring the compatibility with EU law of national measures concerning the broadcasting of events of ‘major importance for society’ (read: the FIFA World Cup, the Euro, the Olympics and similar sports events). In accordance with Article 3 of the Audiovisual Media Service Directive, Member States may require that these events are offered on subscription-free TV channels.

Given the way in which the said provision is worded, the outcome of the action is as unsurprising as it is uncontroversial. Some bits of the judgment raise some interesting issues:

Freedom of information: I have always been surprised by the lightness with which freedom of expression issues are addressed in TV rights-related cases. The General Court (as does the Preamble to the Directive) argues that these measures are justified by Article 10 ECHR, which includes the ‘freedom to receive information’. It is far from clear that the freedom of speech encompasses a right to access an event offered by a private actor on a subscription-free basis . Does this mean that publishers breach the freedom of information of their readers when they charge for their newspapers informing about events of ‘major importance for society’?

Have your cake and eat it?: When reading about Article 3 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, I cannot help thinking about the hybrid situation they create. Sport has become a multi-million business benefitting its governing bodies. If governments do not object to these developments (and I am not suggesting that they should), I do not see why they interfere downstream in the value chain to create market distortions at the level of broadcasters (which very often means, moreover, that public broadcasters end up paying for the rights).

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

18 February 2011 at 8:35 pm