A top New Zealand official has criticised the International Rugby Board’s media restrictions for this autumn’s World Cup in France, saying that they will hurt, rather than enhance, the commercial interests of world rugby.
“The current IRB position is bad for the grassroots of the game and the commercial partners of the professional and amateur game because it will cause media organisations to cut or marginalise the coverage of grassroots and professional rugby, stop publishing results and draws for free and to lessen the amount of media space given to rugby union compared to other sport,” David Rutherford, a former chief executive of New Zealand Rugby Union, says in an open letter to IRB councillors.
“In the smaller places where editors allow sponsors names to be used in local and provincial rugby news coverage, because the editors understand the importance of those sponsors to the game, expect the favours to stop.”
Rutherford called the IRB greedy, saying that its World Cup plans, as previously reported by sportsjournalists.co.uk here, are “improperly seeking to interfere in the gathering and publishing of news in the short-term pursuit of the dollar”.
The IRB is seeking to limit the use of photographs on websites and to interfere with the way newspapers use photos in print.
A copy of Rutherford’s letter was sent to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which, along with a coalition of the world’s news agencies including Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters, has asked the IRB to remove the restrictions.
“Failure by bodies like the IRB to observe human rights norms in pursuit of the dollar undermines rugby as a sport as much as drug cheats do,” Rutherford said. “Such a failure undermines democracy in the nations in which rugby is played and it undermines the fundamental ethics and values of sport, and rugby in particular.
“There has to be a balance between the IRB’s understandable desire to maximise revenue and the democratic right of the news media to gather news.”
The IRB has limited publication of World Cup photos on websites to a maximum of five still photos per half of a game and two photos of extra time. It has also introduced editorial restrictions on how photographs can be used in print publications – banning the common practice of superimposing headlines and captions on photos if they obscure advertising within the images, for example – and has put severe limits on audiovisual content on websites and mobile devices.
The restrictions are imposed as a condition of access to the World Cup. Media face expulsion and legal action if the rules are broken.
Mike Miller, the former London-based sports journalist who is now the chief executive of the IRB, has been invited to put his organisation’s view via this website, but has so far declined to take up the offer.
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