Friday, October 28, 2005

The President of the MCC’s buttocks

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Sporting chance

I lived without a television for most of the 1990s. It is possible, and you really do write more and read more good books. I even kept up with the programmes I was missing by reading Nancy Banks-Smith's reviews in the Guardian.

There was only one snag: the TV Licensing Authority. On Monday at culture, media and sport questions John Pugh described it as "harassing a pensioner couple in my constituency - threatening them with court action, fines and enforcements visits in December, January, February, March, June and August, with each letter becoming even more threatening".

This attitude will be familiar to anyone who has tried doing without a TV. It's the dark side of the BBC. You get the impression Auntie believes the government has made it compulsory for everyone to own a set.

When I got one again in 2000 the programmes and advertisements had changed. There were lots of people from ethnic minorities on screen, the view of family life offered was uniformly negative and advertising logos had invaded the world of sport.

People think the cricket authorities are stuffy, but really they are the most shamelessly commercial administrators of all. There are now logos on the players' clothing and painted on the field of play. For the right price you could probably get your company's slogan tattooed on the President of the MCC's buttocks.

So it was no great surprise when exclusive rights to screen England test matches were sold to Sky TV. You can see why the authorities took the money, but it's unlikely to be in the long-term interests of the game if fewer youngsters get to watch it.

Should government intervene to save cricket from the consequences of its own folly? Tessa Jowell offered no more than a review of all sporting rights in a few years' time. Crispin Blunt and Derek Wyatt suggested ways of ensuring no sport is allowed to deal with just one broadcaster, which must be the way forward.

The rest of Monday's question time was dominated by the new licensing hours. The government's hope is that they will lead to more civilised drinking - certainly, we Liberals used to believe they would - but not many people are holding their breath.

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