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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 22


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (11:11 AM) —I think I am able to sound knowledgeable in relation to the matters raised thus far by Senator Ludwig, and I respond as follows. In relation to the second recommendation, that the government examine the issue of the so-called loophole, the government has previously considered this issue in response to a request from Free TV Australia. The antisiphoning license condition imposed on pay TV licensees does not prevent an associated company that is not a subscription television broadcasting licence holder, such as a pay TV channel provider, acquiring free-to-air and/or subscription rights to listed events. I must be doing badly—I have just noticed the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts coming in to assist! However, if a pay TV licensee then acquires those rights from that associated company before they have first been acquired by a free-to-air broadcaster or the event has been delisted then that pay TV licensee is in breach of its licence conditions. The committee rejected the argument that the antisiphoning provisions were intended to provide free-to-air broadcasters with exclusive access to the broadcasting rights of listed events. Don’t you go anywhere, Minister!

I am aware that the committee considered the issue raised by Free TV Australia of whether a pay TV licensee acquires the rights to listed events from a pay TV content provider when it broadcasts that event in the absence of any formal transfer of rights. Advice obtained by the government indicates that a licensee effectively obtains the rights to events by broadcasting them even in the absence of the formal transfer of rights. As a consequence, the critical safeguard of the scheme remains in place. If a free-to-air broadcaster considers that it has not had a reasonable opportunity to acquire the rights to a listed event, it can still apply to the minister for the event to be retained on the list and be not subject to automatic delisting, thereby preventing an exclusive pay TV broadcast of the event. Nevertheless, the government agrees with the committee’s second recommendation and will continue to monitor the scheme for any evidence that rights holders are seeking to circumvent the intent of the antisiphoning scheme in the manner suggested to the committee. Can I say that the questions are now getting easy, and I feel comfortable in handing over to Senator Coonan.