Don't shoot...

There was a behind-the-scenes facet of the Monte-Carlo Rally which we feel should be placed before you, our readers; not the doing of the organisers, we hasten to add, but entirely a contrivance by FISA.

“We hardly see anything of World Championship rallying on television nowadays.”

“Monte-Carlo? Didn’t even know it was on!”

These are comments we hear frequently. Is this the fault of TV companies for ignoring the sport? Is it the fault of organisers for failing to promote their events adequately? Is it the fault of independent film makers who fall down on selling their wares to broadcasters? Judge for yourselves from the following.

It is some years since we predicted that FISA’s World Rally Championship rule changes to shorten events, to extend rest stops and to discourage night driving represented the thin end of a wedge intended to extract profit from television and filming ‘rights’. Initially, film makers welcomed the changes, as they made their work easier, but now it seems they have changed their minds. They should have heeded our warnings.

Daytime running is attractive to film makers for obvious reasons, and it didn’t take much perception to figure out what might have been the outcome of the changes. The stage was being set first to woo the film makers and then to wallop them with financial demands for filming rights. That wallop has now been made, and the result is wholesale discontent within the ranks of those who film World Championship rallies. One respected film company we know very well turned up at Monte-Carlo, discovered what the demands were and promptly packed up and went home. I don’t blame them. Another, equally disgruntled by outstretched palms, put away the filming gear and resorted to writing about the rally for a magazine. Yet another, committed to making a programme for its own (overseas) national network, decided reluctantly to knuckle under and forked out no less than US$10,000 for the privilege of using one camera, and even then they were not allowed to film on special stages! Why not, I wonder. They were on public roads, after all.

When I began writing about rallying many years ago, then combining it with competing, there were rarely such things as press passes. One just turned up at an event, spoke to and saw whoever and whatever one wanted, and then wrote about it. Nowadays it’s much more complicated, with formal accreditation procedures, more with some events than with others. There are even annual passes issued by FISA which are supposed to take precedence over anything a rally organiser may issue.

In my book, the leading authority of any event is the organising committee of that event, and if they issue me with a pass, that’s good enough for me. I have no FISA pass; nor do I want one.

But film makers have a more complicated cross to bear. Again as predicted in MOTOR SPORT, FISA decided that all films made of World Championship rallies should be authorised centrally, and only upon payment of a fee.

A company called International Sportsworld Communicators was set up in England (its fax print-back is the same as that of the Formula One Constructors’ Association) and an edict issued by FISA that no World Championship rally organiser was entitled to issue a pass to any film maker. That was to be the exclusive privilege of ISC.

Over the space of a year or two, the knot tightened and facility fees began to be demanded of anyone who wished to film anything of a World Championship rally, the fee payable in US dollars to ISC.

For instance, if a manufacturer contesting the series as a whole wishes to make a film of its own exploits, it may only officially do so after paying a fee to ISC. We have heard the figure $175,000 mentioned for 1993, entitling the manufacturer to use one camera during each event, but not on special stages. For that fee, the manufacturer concerned will also be entitled to use tape supplied by ISC’s own contracted film company which, we are given to understand, was, for the Monte-Carlo Rally at least, an Essex-based company called Mr Sport.

For independent film-makers and those working for television companies on an event-to-event basis rather than covering the World Championship series as a whole, no doubt a different scale of fees will apply.

Have you ever heard of a private organisation charging a fee for someone to film in a public place? What will happen in Kenya, I wonder, where there are no special stages, where the entire route is on public land and where the government holds all filming rights and issues (upon payment) its own filming licences?

The whole thing smacks of profiteering. If anyone should charge at all for filming rights on World Championship events, then it should be the organisers of those events, not a private company nominated by FISA. If you, the reader, feel that television coverage of the World Rally Championship is less than it ought to be, perhaps now you are closer to knowing the reason.