AFP threatens to pull coverage of Rugby World Cup

By Keir Radnedge
One of the world’s major news agencies has threatened to pull out of reporting the imminent Rugby World Cup in a row with the International Rugby Board which covers all branches of written and graphic reporting including websites.

The lead has been taken by Agence France-Presse, and other international agencies are reviewing their positions over the tournament. AFP is one of more than 40 media bodies – including Reuters and Associated Press as well the Sports Journalists’ Association – who have formed a coalition to resist commercial encroachment by sports federations into the media’s right to free expression.

“These terms are totally unacceptable and have been rejected by all the members of the coalition,” said AFP chairman Pierre Louette in a letter to the French minister for health, youth and sport, Roselyne Bachelot, and to Bernard Lapasset, the president of the World Cup organising committee.

Louette added: “The coalition members declared today, in a letter in response to the IRB, that they were extremely disappointed that the IRB had displayed bad faith by going back on issues for which an in-principle agreement had been reached recently in Dublin.”

The IRB has conceded ground on issues restricting the use of photographs in newspapers. But one of the key outstanding issues centres on the use of match photographs in websites.

At an August 21 meeting in the Irish capital the coalition of the world’s leading agencies and newspapers requested the right to send their clients a maximum of one photo per second during each match on the understanding that this could not threaten the commercially-sensitive area of broadcast rights.

A similar agreement is in operation between the leading global media outlets and organisers of other global sporting events such as the Olympic Games and football World Cup.

In a letter addressed to all members of the media coalition on Wednesday, to formalise the agreement reached in Dublin, the IRB announced that only a maximum of 50 (20 for each half and five for each extra time period) photos would be allowed to be sent to rugby World Cup clients.

Also contrary to the agreements of August 21, the IRB has maintained that each photographer’s accreditation for the event will be distributed only on the condition that he/she waives all photo credit rights to the benefit of the IRB.

After a fresh coalition approach to the IRB on Wednesday, the IRB two days later maintained its stance, responding: “This will be the last correspondence from us.”

Louette said: “It is now a question of principle. Under no circumstances can we accept the violation of our rights and the rights of our clients, whether it concerns the freedom of the press or the right to freedom of information.

“Like other members of the coalition, we do not exclude taking appropriate measures to protect our rights.

“Fundamental rights are at stake; it would be unacceptable that they be violated in the name of the protection of the IRB’s financial interests.”

Louette said that AFP would reconsider its coverage plans not only for the Rugby World Cup but for other major events run by the IRB, such as the women’s, under-21 and under-19 world championships.

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