EU warns Australia over Olympic TV access
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union threatened to take action against Australia at the World Trade Organization unless European TV crews have greater access to the Sydney Olympics.
"There is a clear case of discrimination in the way the Australian authorities are going to treat Australian press agencies and agencies from the rest of the world," said Anthony Gooch, trade spokesman at the European Commission.
The EU head office released a letter sent Tuesday to Australia's trade minister by EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy complaining that planned restrictions on foreign TV crews were "unprecedented" and appear to breach Australia's commitments under WTO rules.
"The European Commission reserves the right to seek legal redress including, if necessary, the opening of a dispute settlement procedure at the World Trade Organization in the following weeks," Lamy wrote.
The EU complaint does not concern the exclusive broadcasting deals under which TV companies purchase rights to cover the actual sports events -- such as the $705 million that NBC paid for the U.S. rights to the Sydney Olympics, which begin Sept. 15.
Instead, the EU wants to reverse a decision by state authorities in New South Wales stating that only Australian broadcasters and the international rights holders should have guaranteed access to areas around sports arenas where broadcasters are traditionally allowed to interview athletes or cover news stories.
New South Wales authorities said only eight non-rights-holding foreign broadcasters would be given access each day of the games on the basis of a daily lottery.
"This flies in the face of their commitments," Gooch said Thursday. "What we would like to see is everybody treated in the same way."
The restrictions have provoked concern from non-rights-holding TV companies, including CNN, ESPN, Fox, Associated Press Television News and Reuters Television.
The International Olympic Committee has accredited 140 non-right-holders for Sydney, suggesting the competition will be fierce for the daily permits.
Lamy told Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile the rules appear to break assurances Australia gave at the WTO "to open its news agency market for foreign suppliers without restrictions and on the basis of a treatment not less favorable than offered to Australian service suppliers."
In the Australian capital of Canberra, Vaile said it was up to the IOC to resolve the issue with the television companies.
"They made the initial decision in terms of the restrictions of access to the broader media within the precincts of the Olympic Games," he said. "It's got to be their decision."
IOC marketing director Michael Payne said he was a hopeful a solution could be found soon.
"The IOC has always tried to adopt one of the most open news access policies regarding the key information of any sports event," Payne said from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. "I'm sure if there any misunderstandings over the issue, a solution will get worked out in the coming days. We thought this was all settled weeks ago."