Paying Double to Watch Sports?

Sweden’s new center-right government is proposing legislation that would allow public broadcaster Swedish Television (SVT) to charge sports bars that show TV programs.

The issue arose during this past summer’s soccer World Championships in Germany. When sports bars showed customers the games on TV, SVT demanded payment. Critics pointed out that the bars (and presumably virtually all of their customers) had paid the TV viewing licence fee, and extra payments would have meant paying twice for the same rights.

Then-Minister of Culture Leif Pagrotsky commissioned a study into the question, which concluded that the law on TV licences didn’t permit SVT to demand payment. SVT then assigned all its rights to commercial rival TV4, which is covered by other laws.

The new proposal from the center-right government would amend the law on TV licences to allow licence payers access for “own use” only.

SVT has welcomed the proposal, promising restraint.

“Our ambition has never been to force pizzerias for local radio shops to pay when they show our programs,” says SVT senior advisor Jan-Olof Gurinder.

What may be regulated, besides major sports events, is the Swedish finals for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Mats Hulth, CEO of Sweden’s hotel and restaurant employers’ association, says the proposal is “completely unacceptable”. He points out that those who watch games at sports bars have already paid their TV licences, as have the bar owners. Since the bars would be empty during major sports events if they don’t show them, he says, they have no choice but to pass along the extra costs to their customers.

On the other hand, members of the new center-right government have said they think public broadcasters should not spend money on sports events, for which they receive no compensation, when commercial stations can get back their investment through advertising.

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