Not our fault, squire 

1 Feb 2001 0 tbs.pm/1728 Article text released under the Creative Commons Attribution license Media copyrighted Report an error in this article

It isn’t often that my interests in American football and television meet and cross. Yet they did on 24 October 2000. What follows is a tale of intrigue, blame and counter-blame.

Normally Channel 5 show tape-delayed coverage of the Monday night National Football League (NFL) game on Tuesday, or more accurately early Wednesday morning. However, World Series baseball meant that they opted to show it live on this occasion. This was trailed for weeks beforehand with the promise of full coverage and special guests. They couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic game – from being 30-7 down against the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets tied the game at 37-37 with less than 15 minutes to go. Overtime beckoned.

Only one thing. Channel 5 chopped the coverage off in favour of the scheduled news at 6am.

Coverage of live sport has always caused schedulers difficulties and, whether the decision is taken to stay or leave the coverage, complaints will arise. Generally the policy, through experience, has been to stay with the sport as long as possible. In this case the audience would have stayed up all night to watch a four-hour long programme only to have been denied the conclusion. However, this choice is perfectly within the powers of the company. Or so I would have thought.

I wrote to Channel 5 to question their decision and ask whether they intended to show the missing coverage at any time. Their reply surprised me – apparently this was entirely the fault of the big bad nasty old ITC. Channel 5 claimed that they had to show a set amount of news throughout the week as part of their licence agreement and they had no discretion in this case. They had “no plans” to air the missing portion.

This fobbing off may have worked for most of their complainants. In my case I went to the ITC website to try and locate the Channel 5 licence to check this claim. One problem – it isn’t there – you have to fork out ten pounds to get it on pieces of paper. Undeterred, I spoke to the ITC themselves and they undertook to verify the claim. Or so I thought.

I’ll admit it probably isn’t the kind of question they are used to, but it took three attempts to get the ITC to understand the question despite it being plainly stated. Firstly they thought I was asking whether the decision taken to cut the football coverage broke the ITC Programme Code. Obviously, I wasn’t and it doesn’t.

Secondly they thought I was asking whether this decision broke the licence terms of Channel 5. Obviously, I wasn’t and it doesn’t.

Finally they confirmed that continuing showing live sport coverage in these circumstances would not break the licence terms. For live sport the news can be delayed as an exceptional event if any channel considers it to be so – in other words it is entirely their decision. As it should be.

So what does this show? Charitably, I can bite my tongue and say it was a misunderstanding by Channel 5 of its own licence terms and they weren’t trying to shift blame. They did, in the end, repeat the missed coverage several times in the following week. Let’s see what happens in a similar situation next time and whether their commitment to American sports really is anything beyond overnight elastic-length filler material.

 

Jeremy Rogers

www.itw.org.uk

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