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Whittingdale accused over TV sport

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is "forcing sport off the BBC", Labour has said, amid concerns over the level of free-to-air Olympics and Six Nations coverage.

Eurosport and parent company Discovery have secured a rights deal for the Olympics from 2022, with the BBC stating it would seek talks to secure the free-to-air rights.

The BBC and ITV are also thought to have teamed up in a bid to keep the Six Nations rugby union tournament on terrestrial television.

Mr Whittingdale assured MPs that the Olympics will be shown free-to-air due to existing legislation, although he said it was a matter for the BBC and Discovery on whether they can reach a deal.

Shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant warned that the Government's deal with the BBC, which includes the broadcaster taking on the cost of fully funding TV licences for over-75s from 2020/21, would make it harder for it to compete as prices for sports rights soar.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Bryant asked for a guarantee that the Olympics will remain solely on the BBC and the Six Nations will be free-to-air.

Mr Whittingdale replied: "Well, you'll be aware the Olympics are one of the sporting events that is in the group A listed events so there is a guarantee they will be shown free-to-air.

"Now the pan-European rights have been acquired, as you will know, by Discovery. Whether or not the BBC reaches a deal with Discovery over those rights is something for the BBC and Discovery.

"However, I can give you the assurance, because it's part of the list, that the Olympics will be shown free-to-air."

Labour frontbencher Mr Bryant told Mr Whittingdale: "I'm not sure you're right about that because the (Office for Budget Responsibility) says that the shabby little behind-the-stairs deal that you cooked up this week for the licence fee represents another 20% cut in real terms to the BBC.

"That's not a cold bath, it's a prolonged period in the deep freeze.

"Isn't it the case, when sports rights' inflation is running into double digits, this BBC settlement means you are effectively forcing sport off the BBC?

"Don't you realise that sport belongs to the fans, not to BSkyB, to BT or Discovery, and the fans will be furious if the BBC can no longer compete for these important sports rights."

Mr Whittingdale said it is a "matter for the BBC" as to which rights it seeks to acquire, adding to Mr Bryant: "You do seem to ignore the contribution of other public service broadcasters.

"I'd point out to you that every single match of the Rugby World Cup will be shown free on ITV, and Channel 4 has developed their racing coverage, which is widely watched and admired by many people."


From Belfast Telegraph