The future for public service media, sport and cultural citizenship are far from lost

Britt-Marie Ringfjord
Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden

Jay Scherer & David Rowe (red) Sport, Public Broadcasting and Cultural Citizenship: Signal Lost? 321 sidor, inb. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2014 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society) ISBN 978-0-415-88603-1
Jay Scherer & David Rowe (red)
Sport, Public Broadcasting and Cultural Citizenship: Signal Lost?
321 sidor, inb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2014 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-0-415-88603-1

This book takes a broad view of the media policies on providing free-to-air broadcast sports, and discusses different solutions from scientific, political and economic perspectives. One starting point is the Sport Broadcasting Act of 1961 in the United States that today has expanded to every continent, state, sport organization and media industry to regulate sport broadcasting rights. To illustrate the debates and issues on a global level, this book offers several examples made to meet demands from sport organizations, public service broadcasting and commercial media conglomerates. In this global culture of broadcast sport we also find that different countries and their citizens nowadays find themselves depending on the economy of market driven sports to access televised sport on a national level.

The sixteen chapters offer different theoretical perspectives on how media culture and media policies work and are resolved. The book starts with an introduction from the editors, Jay Scherer who is professor at the University of Alberta in Canada and David Rowe, professor at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Both are well known within the field of sport studies and sport media research. To start with, the free-to-air public service media as a universal taken-for-granted accessibility struggle for audience ratings in competition with pay-Tv broadcast sports. The regulations and media laws in many countries were originally enacted to protect and promote national values. One important tool in the creation of national identities was sport culture. How access to live telecasts of sport by public broadcasters can be complicated when it comes to the discussion connected to cultural citizenship, is well explained in this chapter. Due to policy practices it is clear that public service media no longer can guarantee the free sport broadcast to everyone, everywhere. The list of protected events when it comes to sport media has different meaning and approaches in different contexts and cultures.

In chapter 2, Toby Miller defines core concepts for the book and outlines the situation in the UK with its strong public service company competing with commercial media companies like BSkyB. Policies, media, sport and citizens are important concepts for developing a deeper critical understanding based on scholars like Weber, Adorno, Foucault, Raymond Williams and Pierre Bourdieu. Here the scene is set for the following chapters and discussions about sport, politics, economics and culture.

In the third chapter Jay Scherer and Jean Harvey continue the discussion by exploring the complexity of the two Canadian public broadcasters, the English speaking CBC and the francophone Société Radio-Canada. The division in the viewing rights within this context also shows how different historical influences from the British and the French media markets have influenced production and consumption of sport as a cultural phenomenon.

In chapter 4, “Selling Out: The Gaming of the Living Room Seat for the U.S. Sports Fan”, Lawrence A. Wenner, Robert V. Bellamy and James R. Walker discuss the US sector of public service television. Here the public broadcasters are nearly invisible and without any significant power in negotiating television rights. The control is spelled advertising markets and sport organization contracts, like Walt Disney Corporation and Olympic Games for television rights. Any sport is available on pay-TV without any restrictions.

The next chapter is about Soccer in Argentina, by Pablo Alabarces and Carolina Duek, and tells the interesting history of developments in Argentine sports broadcasting industry: From an era of nationalized football telecast in the seventies, through a period of private sport media companies, on to the re-nationalization where the viewing rights re-established live football matches to the public broadcaster Telévision Pùblica.

Next, Raymond Boyle examines the lists of protected eventsin the UK and the conflicts between different interest groups. With the case of Murphy v Football Association Premier League (FAPL) in the European Court of Justice, the impact of international regulations was challenged. An English pub owner imported a decoder and card from Greece, and showed the Greek coverage of English Premier League (EPL) in her pub. She saved around £5000 in subscription fees to Sky. The ruling under European Union (EU) laws on free movement of goods makes it possible for EU individuals to buy devices and cards anywhere in the Union. The open market in Europe for football rights according to this ruling means that live transmissions of games are not covered by copyrights legislation, and thus Murphy was not breaking copyright laws when showing the games in the pub. But at the same time the copyright was infringed by showing the graphics and studio content that was embedded in that broadcast. One interesting conclusion from this analysis is how difficult it is to protect a list of sport media events for one nation within the EU. The contradiction can be explained and understood by the example of the broadcasting policy for Scotland in relation to the UK Labour Government. This chapter is supplemented by an appendix, showing the key recommendations of the Davies Review 2009 over live events protected for free-to-air television.

The viewing practices within a social context that exclude women also create space for that last resort of masculinity.

In their chapter “The Law Not Applied: French Controversies about Television Viewer Access to the 2006 European Handball Championship”, authors Fabien Ohl and Lucie Schochuse the example the European Handball Championship to demonstrate how the enactment in 2004 that guaranteed 21 sporting events important to French society and culture works.

Katrien Lefever presents Belgium in chapter 8, another European example where the list of sporting events is classified as important parts of the free-to-air networks. The list of “Major Events” follows both a continental pattern and specific cultural sporting tastes due to the three linguistic communities within this nation.

In the following chapter, David Rowe explores the Australian sport television context where the 2009 Sport on Television Review and the 2011 Convergence Review, and shows a media political environment that’s different from the previous chapters. In Australia the power of commercial broadcasters in free-to-air television has led to an anti-siphoning regime, according to Rowe.

In chapter 10 the authors Jay Scherer, Michael Sam and Steven J. Jacksonpresent a different perspective on deregulation of public service broadcasting, leading to a commercial monopoly over sports rights held by Sky TV. By examining the deregulation in digital broadcasting using the 2011 Rugby World Cup example, they open up an interesting discussion on boundaries and responsibilities when the government participates as investors with market interests.

Mahfoud Amara’s interesting chapter “The Political Economy of Sport Broadcasting in the Arab World”, where popular sports content is dominated by Aljazeera Sports, the Qatar based an Qatari-owned broadcaster in this region. The numerous options of free-to-air, subscribed and pay-per-view that are available, have created a virtual battle in the black market for smart cards and satellite receiver devices. In some Arab regions these developments create political problems.

The next chapter, “The Global Popular and the Local Obscure: Televised Sport in Contemporary Singapore” by Callum Gilmor opens up a discussion from a Southeast Asian perspective on sports broadcasting. The media landscape situation in this part of the world is described as dominated by two competing quasi-public/free-market broadcasters and telecommunications companies. By these developments, the access to live telecasts is marginalized by increased interest for the Western consumerism and taste for popular sports commodities. A treat to domestic sport culture, claims the author.

In chapter 13 Donna Wong, Isamu Kuroda and John Horne discuss the deregulation of media markets and digital broadcasting services in Japan. New media products are available, and in their chapter they use the English Premier League (EPL) to exemplify how this increases the presence of international sports for the Japanese public via commercial distribution networks and platforms. Like Gilmour in the previous chapter, they also explain the decline of audiences’ interest in local national sport cultures like Sumo wrestling, with increased availability of international sports like football.

In the next chapter, Muhammad Musa describes the situation in Nigeria by using the same example of EPL matches provided by satellite and pay-TV services. One simple explanation is that there are several Nigerian players in European clubs who are interesting to follow for the viewers. Another explanation also pointed out by the author is the gender aspect. The viewing practices within a social context that exclude women also create space for that last resort of masculinity.

Chapter 15 by John Hughson is a wonderful piece on how to watch Football with Raymond Williams, were he discusses football television and its implications as a cultural form with Williams piece in the magazine “the Listener” from 1968. Starting with Williams remark that “sport is of course one of the very best things about television; I would keep my set for it alone” (Williams 1989, p. 34, quoted by Hughson on p. 283), Hughson asks the relevant question if Williams would repeat his opinion about sports and television today? His conclusion is that Williams would be attracted to the technical development where Internet and digital broadcasting make sports available in simple ways, but he would be critical to the media policies, the regulations and the commercialization of culture.

In the final chapter, editors Rowe and Scherer summarize the themes in the book and reflect on future media coverage where the national public service broadcasters still play a significant role in protecting cultural citizenship. However, this will not turn out the same way all over the globe of sporting culture, as culture and citizenship alter both within and outside a nation’s boundaries. So in the future, public service media, sport and cultural citizenship may still develop new forms, and they are far from lost.

For me – a media scientist – this book is an interesting and important contribution to the debate on public service media and what its mission will be in the future. This is also about what demands we make on sport media, as scientists, researchers and as sports audiences. My impression after reading this book is that public service media will continue to be of great importance for cultural identity and citizenship. It is also important to realize that sporting culture, on a national level evolves and changes differently, so there are no simple solutions for global sport media. In my view this book provides media sport researchers with important facts and interesting perspectives on sport culture, citizenship and media politics.

Copyright © Britt-Marie Ringfjord 2014

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