According to a report in today’s Mirror, a member of the coalition government, who sponsored a motion against News International, has called for the BBC director general Mark Thompson to explain how the BBC/Sky F1 deal came about. Under the deal, BBC will show only 10 of the 20 races, the rest will be on a SKY pay platform.
In a letter to Thompson, which was leaked to the Mirror, Lib Dem MP Don Foster says, “I do not believe plans to share coverage between the BBC and Sky promote the best interests of licence fee payers and motor racing fans. I believe the best result would have been for the rights to remain with a free-to-air broadcaster, even if this was not the BBC.”
He adds: “My main concern is that your account of who made the key decisions behind the agreement does not agree with the version of events given by Formula 1 Management.”
Bernie Ecclestone has said that the decision to bring Sky in on the deal was the BBC’s, while a spokesman for the BBC has said that the Sky decision was made by FOM.
Foster, who has a track record of chasing popular causes, has noted the strength of feeling from fans in the UK and the e-petition on the subject. His letter is clear and concise and gets right to the heart of fans’ problem with the deal.
However Foster also has a track record as an outspoken critic of News International, which has a large stake in BSKYB. In July he sponsored a motion in parliament that “That this House believes it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB”, in which he argued that “News International is simply no longer respected in this country.”
Foster has called for Thompson to address the matter and explain how the deal came about when the BBC makes a scheduled appearance before a Commons Select committee shortly.
This appearance will follow a similar format to Rupert and James Murdoch’s recent appearance before a select committee over the phone hacking scandal in that it will give MPs a chance to ask questions and try to get to the bottom of the situation. Foster voices the issue many fans have raised, that half a deal with the BBC is no use, as F1 fans will still have to pay for a full Sky subscription to watch the 10 non-BBC races. He describes it as a very bad deal for fans.
It is unlikely that the hearing will change much as the deal is signed and doesn’t violate any anti-competition laws, but at least F1 fans will get a definitive answer about why the BBC went into this deal.
Ecclestone said that he spoke to ITV and Channel 4 but couldn’t do a deal with them because the BBC had another two years left on its contract.
Meanwhile there were suggestions at the weekend that for the races it does not show live, the BBC could screen a full race re-run a few hours after the race on the Red Button digital service, rather than merely serving up a highlights package on Sunday evenings.