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Sharples Defends MTS Bid For Rugby World Cup Free-To-Air Rights

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Pita Sharples
Pita Sharples

Wellington, Oct 5 NZPA - Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples is defending Maori Television's bid to obtain rights to screen Rugby World Cup games.

Prime Minister John Key raised concerns this morning and said if a taxpayer-funded broadcaster wins a bid to screen the games they should be able to be seen by everyone.

Maori Television (MTS) put in a $3 million taxpayer-funded bid -- reportedly greater than bids by Television New Zealand and TV3 -- for the 2011 Rugby World Cup's free-to-air broadcast rights.

Dr Sharples authorised the money to come out of Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry for Maori Development) funds set aside to foster Maori development rather than the $16.5 million given to the channel to fund its operation, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Sky has won broadcast rights for the tournament to produce coverage of all 48 matches but there are local broadcast rights for up to 16 matches, including All Black pool games, the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final.

Bids closed last Friday with a decision expected mid-month.

MTS broadcasts to about 85 percent of the country.

"It is my absolute expectation that all New Zealanders get an opportunity to view those 16 games free to air," Mr Key told Breakfast on TV One.

"And if Maori Television don't have that capacity then they'd better work out a way (to deliver)."

He would be unimpressed if MTS won the bid because they offered more money but could not deliver countrywide.

"I would be very unhappy about that because the whole purpose of having a free to air service for 16 games...is that wherever you live in the country you can see it."

Mr Key said MTS and TPK may face questions hwether the bid money was a good use of funding.

"TPK I think would need to justify...to the New Zealand public that's the best use."

Dr Sharples said MTS and TPK were right to seize the opportunity to bid for the rights.

"The bid creates a unique platform to promote Maori development for the benefit of the whole country," he said.

He disagreed MTS had gone up against TVNZ and TV3 saying they had not lodged bids at the time MTS put its forward.

"On the other hand, Maori TV has said they are very willing to sub-licence broadcast rights, assuming the IRB (International Rugby Board) allows this. Those matters are for the Board of MTS to decide, not me," Dr Sharples said.

"My focus is on how Te Puni Kokiri's support might achieve outcomes I am responsible for.

"This bid creates huge opportunities to promote and profile Maori businesses across the spectrum, for example, and new jobs will be created. My Economic Development Task Force is certainly interested."

He did not think coverage was a problem saying MTS reached 90 percent of the country and that was being boosted by increased take up of Freeview. Sub-licensing would also ensure wider pick up.

"MTS also has available time to extend their broadcast hours, and a track record of innovative event programming and strong sports coverage.

"It's a pity the bid has attracted controversy, but I am well prepared to discuss the merits of the case with the Prime Minister and other stakeholders."

He wanted iwi radio stations to be able to broadcast games live.

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