The Olympic Games is arguably the world's most-watched event. Every four years, the international spectacle arouses the interest of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. A relatively small number of people can afford to make their way to the host city as spectators. The rest of the world can only share the atmosphere via television broadcast. That is why the Olympic Charter stipulates, and with good reason, that all necessary steps have to be taken to ensure the Games have 'the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world'.
This principle, however, is apparently disregarded when local television stations negotiate on the broadcasting arrangement for the coming Games. After much wrangling, ATV has been allowed to air the events on ATV World, an English language channel with limited viewership. But a deal to enable viewers of TVB and ATV Cantonese channels to watch has yet to be reached because the conditions imposed by i-Cable, the cable TV with the exclusive broadcasting rights, are said to be too harsh to accept. Under the offer, the two free-to-air stations can only show 400 minutes of their own commercials during the 250 hours of broadcasting shared by i-Cable. Given the enormous advertising revenues involved, it is not difficult to see why a deal cannot be struck. As a result, the International Olympics Committee has been asked to intervene.
The Olympic Games are more than just a sports event. The vast number of viewers worldwide means there is a great deal of commercial interest involved. I-Cable, having forked out over HK$100 million for the broadcasting rights, is entitled to forge a deal to its best advantage. But public interest should not come secondary. It would be a shame if most people are denied free access to watch the live broadcasts. Time is running out. The essence of the Olympic spirit is fair play, mutual understanding and solidarity. The public looks to the stations to work out the best broadcasting arrangement in light of that spirit.