Anti-siphoning laws that ensure free-to-air live coverage of major sporting events such as the Olympic Games are back on the political agenda as Sky Television continues to throw its weight around in making New Zealanders pay for the privilege.
New Zealand First yesterday stepped up its campaign to see the Government enforce similar laws in place in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom which ensure "citizens" can access free coverage of sporting events that are of cultural significance to them.
The party's determination to introduce a bill to Parliament comes as Sky remains in a stoush with New Zealand media companies over news reporting of the Games.
Clayton Mitchell, New Zealand First Sports and Recreation spokesperson, said the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in Brazil was a timely reminder of how Sky's monopoly on live sport was disadvantaging Kiwis.
Live coverage of the Games is expected to be exclusively on Sky with the pay-TV network using its Prime free-to-air channel for delayed coverage. Sky is yet to make clear if any live Olympic events at all will be screened on Prime but Mitchell said live coverage should be free-to-air.
"Instead we are expected to pay twice, once through our taxes and again through paid television to see our athletes participate and shine on a world stage - some New Zealanders just won't get that chance," said Mitchell.
"Another young generation will miss the opportunity to be inspired by the grit and determination of our top athletes as they perform on a world stage.
"Prime are screening the Rio Games from 11pm to 3pm daily but it is not clear how much of this will be live coverage.
"In Australia, Channel Seven has exclusive rights to the games and will be streaming some 900 hours of free-to-air coverage because of laws that ensure any Australian should be able to see an event of national importance. The BBC will be bringing its citizens more than 3000 hours of live sporting action from Rio 2016.
"Canada too, will have as many as 23 free live-streaming channels on a dedicated app for mobile users as well as coverage across their public broadcaster. We are falling behind these other countries and this is why New Zealand First has a bill waiting for introduction to Parliament to require free live coverage of significant sports events," Mitchell said.
NZME, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, and Fairfax NZ have not sent news reporting teams to Rio in protest over media accreditation rules enforced by Sky and the International Olympic Committee.
The rules require media companies to waive what they see as their legal rights under the New Zealand Copyright law to use "fair dealing" provisions for news video reporting of the Games. TVNZ reluctantly accredited but its chief executive blasted Sky over its attitude and accused the pay TV operator of attempting to restrict news reporting for commercial purposes.
The media companies are upset with the IOC and New Zealand Olympic Committee's role in allowing Sky to frame the accreditation rules and say they are designed to extend Sky's monopoly of sports coverage.
"There is no need to pay to watch the Olympics, and nobody needs to miss the athletes' grit and determination," said Sky's spokesperson Kirsty Way. "Prime's coverage of the 2016 Games is actually probably one of the most extensive free-to-air sporting events in New Zealand ever, at around 15 hours a day over the entire event, an evening highlights show and The Crowd Goes Wild's coverage of the Games.
Way claimed anti-siphoning laws had been considered in New Zealand but were "abandoned because of the detrimental effect it would have on sports in New Zealand".
"Many sports in this country rely on broadcast fees tom sustain their organisations from the grass roots level through to high performance," she said.
Events such as the Olympics Games and Commonwealth Games are on the anti-siphoning list of major events that must be shown live and free-to-air in both Australia and the UK.
Across the Tasman, the list also contains events like the AFL and NRL Grand Finals, the Bledisloe Cup, the Australian Open tennis and golf tournaments, Bathurst and the Melbourne Cup. In the UK, the list features events such as Wimbledon, the British F1 Grand Prix and the FA Cup final.
Proponents of anti-siphoning laws say they are required because certain sporting events are of such cultural significance and impact on a country that they must be made available to all citizens. In New Zealand, those events are generally regarded as Rugby World Cups, All Blacks tests and tours and Kiwis league, Blacks Caps cricket tests and Silver Fern netball internationals, the America's Cup and Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
An Australian academic recently commented that the current media stoush in New Zealand over Olympic news reporting could not happen in his country due to the anti-siphoning laws, saying the difference between the two countries is that New Zealand is treating its sports fans as "consumers rather than citizens."