Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Know it's Only Football, but...

Another View of la Redondilla
There was a disagreement between the footballers’ union and the league at the start of the season, resulting in the cancellation of the first set of matches. (We were playing Real Madrid, so I’m not too bothered.) It was about money, of course, and the players made much of how some players in the minor teams were having trouble because they weren’t being paid. I don’t know how much right or wrong there was in the respective positions; there was a disagreement, they negotiated and sorted it out, and this weekend there is football.

But another disagreement involved the radio stations. The clubs want to charge them for transmitting the matches, in the same way that the TV stations pay.* The result is that instead of football you have hours of moaning about censorship and self-important stuff about how they’re going to put tape over their microphones outside the ground as some form of symbolic blah blah blah... I switched off, naturally, and followed the game on the internet.

Journalists who think the real news is them always annoy me. Journalists who shout about censorship as soon as someone takes them less seriously than they take themselves annoy me as well. There is a disagreement, sort it out and broadcast the football which is what we listen for. If they convert the programme into self-justification and propaganda for their position I won’t be the only one who stops listening.

The radio stations seem to assume that they have a right to broadcast commentary on matches because ‘the public has a right to be informed’. Well, that isn’t true for a start. A football match is a private event, opened to the public under certain conditions for commercial reasons. There is no general ‘right’ to have access to or information about such an event, and no ‘public interest’ in the sense that matters here. I underline this because I am convinced that it is true and that it is important to understand it. (If you care about this matter in the first place, that is).

The radio stations are, with the exception of the state broadcaster, private companies, which broadcast football because it sells a lot of adverts. They can hardly complain if the clubs have decided to stop giving them those listening figures for nothing. Also, the media have dedicated areas in the stadia which cost a lot of money to maintain, and access to some private areas which involves security costs to the club, interview facilities and so on. (It’s possible they already pay rent or maintenance for these facilities, I haven’t yet been able to find out.)

TV companies show images of the match, the rights to which are held to belong to the clubs playing, whereas radio stations broadcast no content except the commentary which they generate themselves. But the TV stations don’t pay a fortune to show football because they appreciate this conceptual nicety. They do it because it’s worth their while.

The clubs undoubtedly benefit considerably from the publicity, and from having the ear of the nation any time they want it, but that’s the point. It’s a business deal. There is a commercial relationship between two sets of businesses, which benefits the football fan who can listen to the matches for nothing. The clubs are re-evaluating that relationship and have offered a position. The radios, instead of negotiating, are falling back on ‘censorship’, ‘public interest’ and abusing the fact that they are a convenient platform for their own grievances. This is very annoying. When they sort it out I might return to the radio. Or I might stick with internet commentary. Or pay-per-view. Someone who understands how business works and doesn’t imagine the customer is interested in his problems.

I am broadly on the side of the radio stations in this, but I would have much more sympathy if they either broadcast other programmes and ignored the football until the dispute is settled, sat around watching the television pictures and commented from those, or found some other way of telling the listener what’s happening, but without whining all the time about how it’s not fair. Or going crying to Sir- they want the government to get involved. Why?

*I’m sure I remember a similar thing happening around 1992, and then the more enterprising commentators bought a ticket and gave their commentary by phone. The clubs responded by confiscating mobile phones for ‘safety reasons’ (they were big, heavy things back then). The thing is I thought I remembered that in the end they agreed to pay, so I was surprised when this argument broke out as I thought they’d been doing it for years.

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