IOC worried by restrictions on sports coverage

The International Olympic Committee is concerned that moves to restrict media coverage of sport will erode free speech, according to Kevan Gosper, the former IOC vice president.

Just months after the IOC presided over the staging of the Olympic Games in Beijing, where press freedom barely exists and internet access is highly restricted, Gosper, head of the IOC’s press commission, said that curbs on absolute free speech were contrary to the Olympic charter.

Administrators for cricket and Australian rules football are among sports organisers pushing the Australian government to alter copyright laws to give them greater control over the publication of pictures and coverage of their events.

Some sports organisations are using terms and conditions of accreditation for media access to impose tighter controls. Media groups argue that the restrictions contribute to sanitising coverage and deny the public proper access to news and information.

Speaking at an Australian Senate hearing, Gosper said that the trend was a concern, and was not restricted to Australia.

“The IOC considers freedom of the press to be essential and we recognise media attention at the Beijing Olympics was not just focused on the event itself,” Gosper was quoted saying. “Excluding the press runs contrary to the public’s expectations in a democratic society.

“We place no limits on or exclude the press and try to provide an open environment for reporting that might be detrimental of our position.

“If, at the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government had not accredited photographers and offered their own official photographer … it would have been considered unconscionable.”

The IOC generates income from broadcast rights and does place broadcast restrictions on non-rights holders.

The main issues at the Australian hearing include intellectual property, publication of photos and video streamed on the internet and delivery of text and images to mobile devices. Sports organisers want to restrict publication by media to maximise revenue from selling rights in the digital media.

Agencies rejected conditions for accreditation for Australia’s 2008-2009 cricket season and did not cover the series involving South Africa and New Zealand.

Organisers of the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament only ended a similar deadlock with international agencies after their tournament was shifted to South Africa on security grounds earlier this month.

A stand-off between media groups and organisers of the 2007 Rugby World Cup ended just before the tournament started, and only after intervention from the French government and a one-day media boycott.

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