LYON, January 11, 2017 - In clear violation of French legislation, the World Handball Championships in France which start on January 11, will not be covered live by a single French commercial radio station. And most foreign radios will not be offering any live coverage on-site either. Nearly all radios concerned have refused to pay the amounts requested by worldwide rights holder beIN Sports, which, along with televion rights, also owns the radio rights even though it itself does not operate any radio stations.
French law states that if media rights for a sports event on French territory are sold to a sports marketing agency or media outlet, the rights holder cannot prevent that the event from being covered live on radio free of charge. The French state uses this provision to ensure the right to inform about sports events. An AIPS petition defending the right to inform about sports events was accepted by the European Parliament in 2014. An acknowledgement that the problem does not limit itself to France and that this right to inform also needs to be respected outside France.
After discussions with the French Sportspress Association UJSF, the rights holder of the World Handball Championships decided to circumvent French law by charging technical costs to radios wishing to cover the event. Private radio stations in France was asked to pay € 25,000 for live broadcasts of matches in the tournament. This sum is at least five times more than what the real technical cost would be, and it clearly constitutes hidden radio rights.
Right now, only the public radios of France (Radio France) and Croatia (HRT) have signed an actual radio rights agreement with the rights holder. As these agreements are confidential, it is not known how much they have actually paid. But in the case of France, Radio France has accepted to promote live TV broadcasts of beIN Sports on its network for a year, across all sports. No private French radio (Europe 1, RMC, RTL) was prepared to accept such a credits approach. As a result, just hours before the start of the tournament, it appears none of them would be able to provide live on-site broadcasts of the games of the French team.
Furthermore, many foreign radios, mostly European, will not send any or just a limited number of reporters to France for post-match interviews and news reports only. The situation is also problematic for other media. In Germany for instance, where beIN Sports has no presence, no TV sublicensing deal was made. German viewers can only watch the tournament on a dedicated internet channel run by DKB, the main sponsor of the German team. This means that a bank will be broadcasting a sports tournament!
Alarm bells for IHF
One has to wonder whether the International Handball Federation actually cares about the image of the sport. The exposure of its prime event clearly is in decline across several territories. That the sport is suffering can also be seen in the Olympic revenue distribution. For the Rio Olympics, the IOC downgraded handball from group C to group D, meaning the IHF earned less from the event. Sports making the oppositie move, from group D to C, include archery, judo, shooting and weightlifting. Instead of counting the money in its coffers, the IHF should urgently reflect on the future of handball.
AIPS strongly rejects this latest breach of the right to inform. The radio stations affected could turn to the European Parliament because of the violation of the right to inform. The European parliament in fact can be called upon for each infringement of a text it voted upon. Any such violations can be reported by mail to the President of the European Parliament, to be forwarded to the Petitions Committee, with reference to the petition which was already accepted (745/2013). It might be useful to signal the issue to permanent correspondents based in Brussels and Strasbourg. AIPS is ready to support any such initiatives.
Jean-Paul Savart, AIPS Executive Committee member
David Naert, AIPS Europe Executive Committee member