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Viagogo a no show at Parliament’s latest secondary ticketing hearing

By | Published on Thursday 6 September 2018

Viagogo

It was a Via-no-show at the culture select committee hearing on secondary ticketing yesterday as controversial ticket resale platform Viagogo again pulled out of the proceedings. The chair of the committee said the move “demonstrates the fear that Viagogo feel about [any] scrutiny of their operations”, adding that “fans should not trust such an outlet”.

The most controversial of all the secondary ticketing platforms also bailed on a session on ticket touting organised by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sports Select Committee last year. This time Head Of Business Development Cristopher Miller was due to answer questions about the business, but he pulled out on Monday night.

Excusing itself, the company blamed the no show on last week’s announcement by the Competition & Markets Authority that it had begun legal proceedings against Viagogo for alleged breaches of UK consumer rights law. It also raised its own litigation against Kilimanjaro Live in relation to the anti-touting strategy the promoter implemented at recent Ed Sheeran shows.

In an email on Tuesday evening, Viagogo wrote: “These developments would require Mr Miller to address matters that are awaiting adjudication in a court of law, therefore in our view contravening the sub-judice rules confirmed by the House Of Commons in 2001”.

The term ‘sub-judice’ simply refers to matters that are under judicial consideration, and Parliament’s sub-judice rules restrict MPs and Lords from discussing matters that are actively before the courts of law in a bid to ensure that Parliamentary debate doesn’t influence the outcome of any case in anyway.

However, the chair of the culture select committee, Damian Collins MP, insisted that those rules did not apply in this case. “There are no material obstacles to proceeding with the session, from either the CMA’s or the House’s perspective”, he stated in a response letter to Viagogo yesterday morning. “The CMA has told us – in writing – that it has no objections to the committee taking evidence, providing that we exercise care over the information shared and discussed in the session about court proceedings”.

He went on: “The session does not fall within the scope of the House’s sub-judice resolution. No papers have been served and no date set for a trial or even a case management hearing. Indeed, even the scope of the proceedings is not yet known”. And as for the Ed Sheeran litigation, he went on: “The same applies to the Kilimanjaro case which, in any case, is reported to be being taken through the German courts”.

Responding to Collins, Viagogo said its legal advice differed to the MP’s take on events, before blaming the CMA for forcing it to pull from the hearing. “We have not taken this decision lightly and understand how serious it is not to be present this afternoon”, it wrote. “However, we are acting on unequivocal legal advice which makes clear that attendance would jeopardise our position with respect to the ongoing legal proceedings which the CMA has initiated against us”.

It said its lawyers had asked the CMA “to assure us that it would not consider any statements made by Viagogo in the hearing to constitute a breach of any of its non-disclosure provisions, or a waiver of its without prejudice privilege in the context of the CMA investigation”. But “the CMA categorically rejected this request”.

“Indeed, it went further”, Viagogo said, “and asserted a positive entitlement to rely on [our] evidence at the DCMS hearing in the litigation. This is in direct contradiction to the guidance on parliamentary privilege given in the ‘House Of Commons’ Guide For Witnesses Giving Written Or Oral Evidence To A House Of Commons Select Committee’ dated February 2016, which we assume the CMA must know”.

It concluded: “We are sincerely disappointed by the CMA’s stance in this regard. It is particularly disappointing that the CMA appears to have sought a litigation advantage at the expense of the work and efforts of the DCMS Committee. We wish to maintain a dialogue with you and will be submitting written evidence following the hearing today”.

Despite all the legal wrangling, Collins said he felt Viagogo’s decision to not attend his committee’s hearing showed disrespect to Parliament and to the company’s customers. In a statement on the committee’s website he said: “Consumers deserve answers to the huge volume of concerns about secondary ticketing abuse. It is hard not to view this eleventh hour withdrawal cynically. Viagogo’s non-attendance is a gross discourtesy, the more so given the company’s failure to attend last year”.

Whatever the legalities, Viagogo has for years now adopted a wall of silence strategy refusing to engage with its critics, seemingly on the assumption they’d eventually just go away. The exception being when a critic has the power to stop the company from buying its way to the top of Google search lists for upcoming events, in which case it usually acts.

The firm re-opened a channel of communication to the press this week on Twitter, its first formal PR activity in years. But only to issue an angry statement about Kilimanjaro and its boss Stuart Galbraith and to confirm that it was going legal over the promoter’s efforts to stop Sheeran tickets from being touted.

With government regulators now suing Viagogo in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, it will presumably have to formally respond to the long list of criticisms about its anti-consumer practices in due course. Whether it now intends to also respond to critics and criticisms through the new Twitter account on a regular basis remains to be seen.



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