By Peter Wilson, SJA Bulletin Editor
The football authorities and newspapers have narrowly averted a head-on collision over plans by the English and Scottish leagues to bring in their own press ID cards.
This would have produced a re-run of the row in 2004 when attempts to limit press freedom over the flow of information, including pictures posted on websites, led to many media outlets banning the use of sponsorsâ€™ names in reports and pictures.
Then the football authorities backed down and a new access deal was signed between Data Football Co, the agents for the Premier League and Football and Scottish leagues, and the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA). Negotiations had got so heated that Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, and Football League chairman Lord Brian Mawhinney both had to intervene. It is believed they were taking a back seat in the latest row.
A source at the NPA said editors had needed to be convinced that the new ID cards were â€œnot just about greater regulation and control over what the media produceâ€. But behind-the- scenes dialogue had prevailed. â€œCommon sense has been restored, at least to some areas of football governance,â€ said the source.
Under the scheme all writers, photographers and broadcasters would have had to apply for one of the new ID cards and if the application was rejected, they would not be able to enter any ground of Premier League and Football and Scottish League clubs. Even with the new cards, sports desks would still have to contact the relevant clubs to book their seats for each match. But it is understood that the leagues remain keen to introduce their card for those news-gatherers not carrying UK Press Card Authority (UKPCA) cards, such as visiting foreign journalists. Football DataCo claims that the leaguesâ€™ new ID card was justified as a security measure.
Most working journalists are already a part of the UKPCA scheme, which has 14 gatekeeper organisations, such as the NPA, the BBC, Reuters, Sky and the Newspaper Society.
UKPCA believes that the Football DataCo ID card would have no extra security features. Indeed, because the new ID card would be a swipe card, it is concerned about what information could be kept on it â€“ which also brings in Data Protection issues.
This yearâ€™s rugby union World Cup has brought in conditions for journalists that the NPA insider calls the â€œmost Draconianâ€ he has ever seen. A â€œrobustâ€ approach against the International Rugby Board has already provided signs that there could be a re-think.
An â€œunprecedented meetingâ€ of journalists, agencies and news organisations from around the world took place in London at the end of June to bring new â€œglobal thinkingâ€ to the issue. The problem of restrictions on the flow of information is already happening in major sporting events. The ultimate goal of some sports federations, many believe, is to censor negative reporting and images.
â– The UK Press Card Authority is concerned with providing professional news-gathers in the UK with the primary means of proving their credentials. The authority is owned and managed by a cross-section of the media and the scheme is recognised by the police, government departments and event organisations (see www.presscard.uk.com).
This article first appeared in the summer 2007 issue of the SJA Bulletin, which is sent to all fully paid up members of the SJA.
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