Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

TV rights and wrongs

The Al-Jazeera-Egyptian TV dispute over broadcasting rights is taking a political colour, Inas Mazhar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Once again a sports issue turns into a political debate. This time, though, it has nothing to do with the famous troublemakers the Ultras.

This week, media reports highlighted the news that the Egyptian Football Association had been fined $2 million for violating TV broadcasting rights of the African Football Association (CAF) by broadcasting live the Egypt versus Ghana first-leg World Cup qualifying match which was held in Kumasi in October.

Al-Jazeera Sports Network, now known as beIn Sports, is the rights holder of the FIFA and CAF TV rights in the region. Accordingly, any broadcast should be made through the Qatari network. Though the first-leg match was shown live on the Al-Jazeera Open Channel, which gave the opportunity to the public to watch the game for free, Egyptian television still televised the match via signal piracy.

FIFA and CAF broadcasting rules give the television of the home team the right to broadcast the match live on its terrestrial channel for no fees. That is exactly what happened in the second-leg match in Cairo where the game was broadcast live for free. Accordingly, Al-Jazeera filed a complaint to CAF through the marketing company Sports 5, the main sponsor of the African World Cup qualifiers.

According to Hani Abu Rida, FIFA and CAF executive committee member, FIFA has nothing to do with this story as it is totally a CAF issue. “Actually, this is a decision that all national federations have agreed to in CAF Congress meetings. Each nation has the right to watch its home match for free in return for TV production from the national broadcaster. Each country has been offered revenue from the selling of the rights. The Egypt and Nigeria revenues are the biggest, $2 million, because of their history, “Abu Rida told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“So when the agreement was broken, in Egypt’s first game against Ghana, CAF had to suspend the $2 million revenue allocated to Egypt until the issue is resolved with the national broadcaster, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU). I want to make it clear that it is a suspension, not a fine. And by the way, Egypt is not the only case. Algeria and Burkina Faso have done the same. And since their national broadcasters broke this agreement, CAF had to address their national federations as well,” Abu Rida explained.

But why did Egyptian television violate broadcasting rights? According to media reports, negligence of broadcasting rights and rules is one reason while the second could be related to political issues. The story goes back to the beginning of the Rabaa Muslim Brotherhood sit-in which started in late June. The minister of information then, Salah Abdel-Maksoud, had sent two television units that belong to the ERTU to Rabaa for live transmission of the sit-in. When Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood member, was ousted as president, the sit-in continued and the numbers increased. Pro-Morsi Brotherhood members got their hands on the units and used them for live transmission on a daily basis, almost 24/7 on the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel which had been acting as the virtual voice of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. After the ousting of Morsi and the formation of a new government and then the dissolving of the sit-in in Rabaa, the new minister of Information Dorreya Sharafeddin asked Al-Jazeera for LE40 million for using the live ERTU units for the 48-day duration of the sit-in. Al-Jazeera never paid up.

As a result, Chairman of the ERTU Essam Al-Amir allowed the broadcast of the Egypt vs Ghana away match live through signal privacy to avenge what Al-Jazeera did even though the match was broadcast on the Open channel. The point was to punish Al-Jazeera as well as to annoy it. It was politics as usual.

But for FIFA and CAF, these games have nothing to do with politics. Their chief concern was not the political disputes between the two countries but the broadcasting rights that were violated, pirated by Egyptian television.

Since football rarely interacts with governments save for issues of protocol or when government approval is needed for hosting an event, it was only normal that when the world’s governing bodies in football did not communicate with either the government itself or any of its entities, there was as well no communication with the ERTU, as Fatma Ghoraba of the ERTU broadcasting transmission department confirmed. “So far, we have not been contacted by either FIFA or CAF as media reports claim. The decision to transmit the match came from the chairman of the ERTU,” Ghoraba told the Weekly.

But the EFA, which was shocked by the news, insists that EFA is not involved in the issue which, it added, is entirely between the ERTU and Al-Jazeera. The EFA is currently in a critical situation that started even before the letter from CAF. There is a budget deficit in the federation and the board recently approached Minister of Sports Taher Abu Zeid asking for financial aid to help pay the monthly salaries of the staff and technical and coaching staffs of the national teams. They were depending on the CAF broadcasting sales revenues to help with the beginning of the national league competition. So the suspension was the last thing the EFA wanted. Vice President of the EFA Hassan Farid affirmed they were not party to the dispute. “This was the decision of the ERTU, so it is between them and CAF or Al-Jazeera, “Farid said. The EFA has approached Abu Rida to help solve the issue.

“The EFA contacted me and are preparing a letter to be submitted to CAF on their behalf so we can reach a compromise,” Abu Rida said. “It is a sensitive issue that needs special attention and negotiations with the main sponsors Sports 5, Al-Jazeera, CAF and of course the ERTU. We hope we can solve it and reach a settlement that would make all parties happy. We wouldn’t want the issue to escalate.”

Despite the national media criticism of Al-Jazeera for its obvious bias against Egypt and its current interim regime, sports media believe that the ERTU made a mistake because of negligence of the rules. Sports critic Ayman Abu Ayed, head of the Al-Ahram sports section, opened fire on the ERTU saying that what they did was unprofessional and showed disrespect to the rules and rights of broadcasters.

“These are the rights of Al-Jazeera and what ERTU did is a clear violation and signal piracy of Al-Jazeera rights. I know some would say I am supporting Al-Jazeera and would accuse me of being an enemy of the June revolution for supporting Al-Jazeera who has shown animosity towards Egyptians and the regimes, but this is the truth. The ERTU has acted irresponsibly and violated copyrights. I wonder who will pay the price for that. Two million dollars is about LE14 million. The EFA is not responsible and the ERTU has to pay that. Regardless of who pays, this is considered carelessness and squandering of public funds because of quick, hasty decisions from a reckless irresponsible official who did not consider the consequences and should be questioned,” added Abu Ayed.

Al-Amir told Al-Ahram that it was ERTU’s right to broadcast the game live on a terrestrial channel since Egypt was involved in the game. Al-Amir had implied on previous occasions that the policy with Al-Jazeera would be an eye for an eye. Thousands of employees at the ERTU are concerned over whether the ERTU must pay this huge amount of money. They consider the decision means the squandering of public funds, and that they as employees are already suffering from a lack of resources. They believe they  should not pay the price for a wrong decision.

But Abu Ayed had another take. “This statement reveals total ignorance of the rules. We all know that it is the right of the nation to view only home games. If the ERTU has disputes and grudges with Al-Jazeera, they can sue them for using their units in transmission. This is their right.”

TV presenter Amr Khafagi wrote two columns in the daily Al-Shorouk in which he berated the ERTU, describing the pirating operation as “looting and thugging” and said Egypt should expect tough sanctions and fines.

Undoubtedly, politicians and policymakers will continue to use sports as a pressure card in their issues as meanwhile someone will have to pay the price for distorting Egypt’s image and reputation regionally and internationally.

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