Talks held to avoid ruck over rugby rights

From UK Press Gazette

Just two weeks away from the start of the Rugby World Cup in France, the organisers have been accused of embarking on a “grab” of reporting rights which has left news organisations fuming.

Representatives of the Newspaper Publishers Association and 40 media groups worldwide, including the SJA and AIPS, met the International Rugby Board in Dublin last Tuesday to persuade them to back down.

News organisations are unhappy about press accreditation rules which include limits on still images being published on websites. The rules also ban newspaper journalists producing any audiovisual reports from venues and bar newspaper websites from running extracts of broadcast footage.

The IRB has also restricted newspapers from sending photos to mobile phones and insists that it has free, life-long, worldwide rights to use journalists’ material itself.

Among those opposing the accreditation rules is Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors.

He said: “Editors are well aware that the organisers of major sporting events need to make money through sponsorship – but what they need to realise is that there is a huge amount of free publicity which media organisations provide that promotes the event and promotes the sport in general.

“In recognition of this sport, organisers should be bending over backwards to keep the media on side rather than trying to impose these conditions. Things like the Rugby World Cup are major public events that should be reported on – there shouldn’t be restrictions and costs attached to covering them. The reason that they attract sponsorship is because of all the free coverage that the media provides to these events.

“Editors recognise the need to mention sponsors because of the support they give to sports – but they would be perfectly entitled to stop doing so.”

Freelance football writer Kier Radnedge is chairman of the football commission of AIPS. He said: “The accreditation process for sports events is now so lengthy and complex that journalists themselves have very little idea what they’ve actually signed up to.

“To a large extent, the forms are handled back in the office and there is so much small print that the head of department just signs it. It’s a question of signing on the bottom line so your man can pick up his pass.

“What’s happened in the past few years is sports federations are seeking to grab for themselves as many revenue-generating opportunities as they can, and they have encroached more and more into the areas which should be a matter of public information and freedom of the press.

“Nobody objects to the Rugby World Cup making as much as it can financially out of its big flagship event. But where it crosses over into matters of freedom of expression and the press, that is always going to cause trouble.”

We have all been here before

A similar row broke out in the run-up to the football World Cup last year.

It culminated in the World Association of Newspapers lobbying sponsors directly with its concern about the “severe restrictions” on press coverage.

In a letter to Fifa bosses, WAN said: “Your restrictions on our journalistic coverage of the 2006 World Cup not only deprive our readers and clients of access to important information on a public event, but constitute both an interference in editorial freedom and independence and a clear breach of the right to freedom of information as protected by numerous international conventions.

“You have made it clear that Fifa rejects both these ideas and that, to express it bluntly, considers that ‘business is business’.

“Beyond this, we are truly saddened and shocked that in the name of maximising the commercial exploitation of these events, Fifa should effectively turn its back on the news media which give life, on a daily basis, to football in all its different manifestations all over the world and have done so for decades.”

The dispute centred on the rights to publish pictures on websites. Fifa had insisted that no photos be published on websites until after the final whistle of matches, and the number of web-published photos should be limited to five a match half and two for extra time, including penalty shootouts.

A compromise was ironed out just two weeks before the event, when Fifa agreed to waive most of its restrictions.

In October 2004, a dispute between the Newspaper Publishers Association and the professional football leagues over licensing nearly resulted in newspaper journalists being locked out of games.

The Premiership and Football League had suggested that newspapers could be barred from covering games unless they signed up to new licensing rules.

The conditions included a twohour delay between games finishing and newspapers’ pictures appearing on websites and other outlets; the imposition of reporting windows midway through each match half and during half-time, in which newspaper companies can publish scores of ongoing games; and restrictions on non-newspaper print products, such as posters and stickers.

The football leagues were also asking for a five to seven per cent cut from the proceeds of newspaper fantasy football competitions.

The row culminated with national newspapers omitting logos and sponsorship branding from reports before a compromise was hammered out.

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