Well, at the risk of saying ‘I told you so’, I told you so.
After years of listening to howls of outrage and whataboutery when I questioned the legality of Sky and other channels being available in Gibraltar, and at little or no cost compared to the UK, there are now outpourings of misplaced entitlement after Sky channels had to be removed by U-Mee and GibFibreSpeed. One man interviewed on GBC said: “We’ve had it so long, why did they have to do this? That’s what gets me angry!”
Others have pointed out on social media that Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man can subscribe to Sky without difficulty despite not being part of the UK either, but as Crown Dependencies, they are covered by UK broadcasting laws extended by Orders in Council, as well as the BBC Charter, and their residents pay the UK licence fee, so they are no different from UK residents in this regard, with the same obligations but also the same benefits.
It is ironic that it is the EU which is behind clampdowns on piracy, or ‘card-sharing’, when some people used it as a defence of such activities in Gibraltar – just because the EU wants its citizens to watch television from other member states doesn’t mean it wants them to get away without paying for it, even if the European Pirate Party, which wants to reform or scrap copyright laws, won its first seat in the European Parliament at the last election.
Brexit or no Brexit, this is should be a bilateral matter between the UK and Gibraltar, resolved through an Order in Council made with the consent of the Gibraltar Parliament, without the need to refer to the EU at all. Rights holders in other parts of the world have no more qualms about taking legal action than those in the EU, even though out of 98 US channels being pirated in Jamaica, the local regulator only managed to get 19 removed!
Also ironic is that the Chief Minister has sought a meeting with the Chief Executive of Sky, when it is Gibtelecom, the company of which he is Chairman, which has caused this uproar by prompting Sky to take legal action against companies carrying its channels in Gibraltar, after a quarter of a century of turning a blind eye to ‘card-sharing’ and a deaf ear to companies willing to charge their subscribers the same for Sky channels as those in the UK or Ireland.
I knew a company proposing to do just that back in 2001, as part of a plan to build a cable network, separate from GibNynex, as it then was, offering broadband internet, TV and phone services. Its name was, and still is, Broadband Gibraltar, even after its merger with GibNet, but it is better known by its trading names, Sapphire Networks, under which it serves corporate clients, and more recently, U-Mee, under which it offers residential services.
Of course, it is no coincidence that Gibtelecom has just launched its own pay-TV service called Sofi, which includes a selection of Sky channels, though the rest of its line-up is pretty mediocre, at least for now – does it honestly think that U-Mee and GibFibreSpeed customers who still have a Gibtelecom landline are going to get an extra broadband connection and Sofi set top box just to get three Sky channels, a small fraction of those they have lost?
But even if U-Mee and GibFibreSpeed carry channels from beIN instead, what is to stop Gibtelecom, now in cahoots with Sky, from taking action to have those removed too, even if beIN itself turns a blind eye, given that beIN’s channels will show many of the same sporting events, films and TV series as Sky’s ones? Or other channels available on beIN, like Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies, carried by Gibtelecom on Sofi?
The most notable thing about the Sofi channel line-up, however, is not which channels are currently included but which ones are not, the only BBC channel being BBC World News. What ones will be added – will they be the BBC’s UK domestic channels, along with those of ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, or international ones like BBC Entertainment, the successor to the unlamented BBC Prime, or the even more forgettable ITV Choice?
Of course, with the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube, perhaps the recent announcement has not been as big a shock or blow to people in Gibraltar as it might have been ten or fifteen years ago, but that is the point – that was the time when this issue should have been addressed. Perhaps as a sweetener to Sky, the Government should make a back payment to the value of whatever revenue it would have lost over that time!