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SA media complain at FIFA’s World Cup gag

Journalists in South Africa are campaigning against restrictions contained within football world body FIFA’s World Cup accreditation small print, which they have described as “outrageous infringements on our constitutional right to freedom of expression”.

The SA Media interest group, made up of members of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and industry body Print Media South Africa, are unhappy about a raft of FIFA requirements for journalists who apply for accreditation to cover the tournament.

Some areas of complaint are familiar battle lines from previous rugby and cricket World Cups, as well as football’s 2006 World Cup, staged in Germany. These include restrictions on picture and video packages being used on newspaper websites, which FIFA says is necessary to protect rights-holders who have paid millions for exclusivity.

SA Media has also flagged up a ban on reporters naming the hotels or resorts where World Cup teams are staying (a rule already broken by most London-based newspapers who have reported England’s tournament plans); and a half-mile exclusion zone for newspaper vendors, denying a vital source of income for many dirt poor South Africans, who will never be able to afford World Cup tickets.

But the FIFA accreditation clause which has caused greatest anger among the South African media is a demand that news organisations may not bring FIFA into disrepute.

Pekka Odriozola, a spokesman for FIFA, sought to allay concerns when he said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed. That is very important for us and you will be able to cover the World Cup in the best possible conditions.

“We have never had any problem before. They have been examined by international organisations. Really, there is nothing to fear.”

But media observers pointed out that the robust German media did not accept similar conditions four years ago, and FIFA backed down when the World Association of Newspapers threatened to sue to protect freedom of the press.

Gill Moodie, a South African media commentator, said, “South African journalists fought long and hard for freedom of the press during apartheid. Even if FIFA’s intentions are good, we want written clarification that we can report freely and fairly. We already have that right cast in stone in our constitution and we don’t give it up for anyone – no matter how big you are.”

Odriozola explains that the controversial disrepute clause is only intended to apply to reporters and photographers who misbehave at matches or in media areas. That has not reassured senior media figures in South Africa.

Anton Harber, the former editor of Johannesburg’s Mail & Guardian said, “FIFA has banished those people who try to make a living around the stadiums, they have made us divert development money into fancy stadiums, and we have had to give up all sorts of rights for the month they will be in control of our cities.

“That’s all well and good for the sake of the big event. But if they mess with our freedom of speech, as they seem to want to do with their list of restrictions on journalists who apply for accreditation, they are going to have a fight on their hands. We don’t give up our constitutional principles lightly.”

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