Trust raps BBC over FA Cup radio rights

Friday, October 9 2009, 11:36 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

The BBC Trust has "partially upheld" a complaint from TalkSport about the way in which the BBC Executive secured radio rights to FA Cup coverage.

After an investigation, the Trust found that the corporation had breached its own competition guidelines when acquiring the rights and also failed to properly assess their value.

TalkSport appealed to the governing body about the BBC's conduct in securing radio rights to FA Cup games in the 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons.

The commercial broadcaster alleged that the BBC had failed to comply with its own fair trading policy, notably in terms of minimising impacts on competition and keeping within state competition law.

It also claimed that the BBC failed to maintain its responsibility under the Royal Charter to always get value for money as the rights were secured at higher than their market value.

In response, the Trust's finance and compliance committee ruled that the BBC did breach its own competition guidelines in this instance and that the process of getting value for money was not pursued with "sufficient rigour".

However, it dismissed notions that state competition law had been breached or that the amount paid by the BBC for the rights was "unreasonable".

Committee chair Rotha Johnston said: "The Trust takes its responsibility to ensure that the BBC adheres to its fair trading rules very seriously.

"In these two cases the BBC failed adequately to follow the right processes. We look to the BBC Executive to right these wrongs by putting in place robust measures to avoid this situation being repeated."

In its ruling, the Trust said that the BBC Executive must note that "achieving value for money does not necessarily mean securing exclusive sports rights, and if there are other ways of meeting the obligations of a particular service licence, these must be considered".

The BBC Executive must therefore report to the Trust in January 2010 on how it plans to strengthen the sports rights acquisition process to always get value for money for licence fee payers.

Welcoming the judgement, Scott Taunton, managing director of TalkSport's parent company UTV Media, said: "We are obviously pleased with the Trust's findings and look forward to entering future sporting rights bidding processes knowing that we are competing on a level playing field."

In a separate ruling, the Trust upheld a complaint from the British Educational Suppliers Association about the BBC's failure to follow its own guidelines in the development of educational websites such as Learning Zone and BBC Bitesize.

In this case, the BBC Executive was found to have "failed in its duty to conduct appropriate competitive impact principle assessments with regard to investment in Bitesize, Learning Zone Broadband and the Learning Portal since 2007, amounting to a breach of the competitive impact principle".

The corporation also failed to properly engage with the education industry about its new service developments, and so the Trust ruled that no further investment can be made in the online resources until a proper competitive investment is completed.