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Albanese Government drops the ball on anti-siphoning

If the Albanese Government is interested in keeping iconic sports live and free for all Australians, it must fix a major loophole in the nation’s anti-siphoning laws.

While the AFL has announced a record $4.5 billion rights deal with the Seven Network and Foxtel, it is concerning that the current anti-siphoning laws do not prevent a major sports body from selling “broadcast” rights directly to digital or streaming platforms such as Facebook, Amazon Prime, Google and Netflix.

At a time when so many Australians are facing increasing cost of living pressures, this constitutes a major threat to the right of every Australian to watch their favourite sports, live and free.

Australia’s anti-siphoning laws, which prohibit major Australian sports and cultural events from being “siphoned” off directly to subscription TV operators but not to global digital platforms, are no longer fit for purpose.

Rather than conduct another review, Labor’s Communications Minister must act immediately to fix this loophole and update Australia’s anti-siphoning laws. On 24 August 2022, knowing the AFL deal was imminent, Michelle Rowland committed only to release a discussion paper “in the coming weeks” but where is it? This Labor government has been caught asleep at the wheel.

The anti-siphoning list preserves the right of all Australians to watch major events on free to air television, accessible by 99 per cent of the population, ensuring equitable and free access to iconic sporting and cultural events.

As more Australians access super-fast broadband and subscription streaming services, there will be ongoing debate about which events should be so restricted.

However, the declaration by Labor’s Communications Minister that there should be no diminution in the number of free to air AFL games was both clumsy and opaque.

The anti-siphoning framework ensures that free to air networks are offered the listed sports first. There is no obligation to either broadcast these events on free to air, let alone broadcast a minimum number of games in any one sport.

There is certainly an argument that additional restrictions are required such as guaranteeing a minimum number of free to air games and ensuring that prime days on which events are held are not excluded. Personally, as an avid Geelong Cats fan, I am concerned that so few Saturday games will be broadcast free to air under the new AFL deal.

7 September 2022

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