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F1 fans deserve explanation over BBC and BSkyB deal, says MP

Lib Dem culture spokesman writes to BBC director general claiming there are ‘glaring errors’ with accounts of deal

The Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, Don Foster, has written to BBC director general Mark Thompson demanding an explanation of the corporation’s Formula One deal with BSkyB.

Foster said there were “glaring problems” with accounts given by the BBC, Sky and Formula One about the deal, which will take some races away from free-to-air TV for the first time.

Sky will broadcast all the Formula One races and practice sessions from next season, with the BBC broadcasting half of the races. Live TV coverage of Formula One reverted to the BBC in 2009 after 13 years on ITV.

“I am not complaining about the realities of the BBC, BSkyB and FOM [Formula One Management] having their own interests. Nor do I doubt that those involved in this arrangement worked hard to balance their competing aims,” Foster said in the letter, seen by the Guardian.

“But I am concerned that F1 fans in the UK, who are also licence fee payers, had no one speaking up for what was in their interests. I am also particularly unhappy at claims that the BBC was the main facilitator of the end result.”

The Lib Dem culture spokesman referred to suggestions from Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One Management chief executive, that the BBC brought Sky to the table with the idea of a joint deal – which he says is in “marked contrast” to the explanation offered by the corporation.

The BBC has said ultimately the decision over who broadcasts the sport is down to Formula One Management. Foster has also written to Ecclestone.

Foster said in the letter: “This gulf between the two versions has led to disappointment and anger among fans and now they have to sift through completely contradictory accounts of who decided what. The least fans deserve is a clear explanation of what happened. I urge you to give it.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Ultimately it is the responsibility of FOM, who own the rights, to decide which broadcasters cover the sport. FOM must decide what is in the best interests of the sport, its employees, manufacturers, sponsors and viewers – when choosing its broadcast partners. On this occasion, FOM decided that a broadcast partnership between BBC and Sky was in the best interest of the sport.”

The seven-year deal to share coverage of the races comes into force from the 2012 Formula One season.

Thompson and the BBC Trust chairman, Lord Patten, will answer questions from the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee on BBC governance next month.

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