The Sports Journalists’ Association today joined calls recommending a media black-out of any pictures provided through Southampton Football Club, after the League 1 club refused to accredit professional sports photographers to matches at St Mary’s, opting to offer its own syndicated images instead.
Backing the boycott will be the Telegraph Media Group, who today – the opening day of the Football League season – said that they would not use any pictures provided by Southampton.
“Telegraph Media Group is very concerned at this development and at the restrictions it puts on our freedom to report sport,” Ben Clissitt, TMG’s Head of Sport, told sportsjournalists.co.uk.
“We are unhappy at Southampton’s decision to restrict photographic access to one picture agency and the implications for our journalism. We will not be publishing pictures from Southampton Football Club while these restrictions are in place.”
Southampton’s photography ban covers all national, local and agency staff, after they attempted to appoint a single agency, Digital South, with which other outlets will have to negotiate for photographs.
Southampton begin their League 1 campaign at lunchtime today at home against Plymouth Argyle. The local Plymouth newspaper, The Herald, barred from sending its own snapper, yesterday carried a trenchant editorial criticising Southampton’s attempt to control the distribution of pictures from their games.
“What a cheek, and what an insult to the fans whose money helps pays the players’ wages and makes the professional game viable,” The Herald wrote in it editorial.
Southampton’s attempt to monopolise pictures supplies may yet extend to efforts to control press box and conference access. On Thursday, the club arranged a press conference for broadcasters, while national and local papers were not invited.
The Society of Editors has sent a letter to the club, condemning its policy.
Southampton is not the first football club to attempt to control media outlets in this manner. Manchester United and Liverpool have, at various times, sought to control pictures from their matches or media events by either limiting access or restricting the sources of pictures.
When the Scottish FA recently attempted to control the picture supply from its media events, the major newspaper groups in Scotland quickly closed ranks and insisted that they should be able to choose who to assign to such jobs. “Most of the pictures the SFA’s agency were providing were so bad that they were unusable anyway,” a Scottish newspaper’s sports editor told sportsjournalists.co.uk.
Last season, a widespread media boycott of photographs supplied by Leeds United’s in-house picture agency saw the club – and therefore its sponsors – only feature in the sports pages of regional and national papers after they had played away games. Pictures from Elland Road were not used.
“Southampton’s chosen policy is short-sighted,” Steven Downes, secretary of the SJA, said, “not only for their fans, but for their sponsors and advertisers. We wonder what these businesses’ reaction might be when they realise that the media exposure that they have paid for is being reduced by the club’s own policy?
“We will be approaching the picture agency involved, as well as writing to the club asking them to reconsider their counter-productive censorship.
“Until Southampton return to accrediting bona fide photographers from national and local newspapers and agencies for matches, we would ask our colleagues on sports desks and picture desks to consider carefully before they use any photographs from St Mary’s.”