20 March 2007
 
News from the Media Scene:
WAN Protests Against Rugby and Australian Football Media Restrictions

The World Association of Newspapers and a coalition of the world's leading
news agencies today protested against severe restrictions placed on press
coverage of this year's Rugby World Cup in France, and said the restrictions
imposed by the International Rugby Board "are a serious breach of freedom of
the press."


And in a separate action, WAN and the news agencies protested to the
Australian Football League against its refusal to provide media
accreditation to global and foreign news organizations for any games in the
2007 season. The AFL has announced the creation of its own exclusive agency
to provide the media with AFL images.

WAN, representing the world's newspapers, and the coalition of news agencies
including Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press, Reuters and Getty
Images, told the International Rugby Board and the AFL that they would
explore their legal options and inform event sponsors of "the very clear
loss of exposure from which they will suffer owing to these restrictions."

"Your position reflects, frankly, a lack of understanding of the meaning of
freedom of the press and the nature of the modern news enterprise," WAN and
the news agencies said in a letter to Mike Miller, CEO and General Secretary
of the International Rugby Board.

The IRB has severely limited publication of World Cup photos through the
Internet, including on thousands of newspaper web sites, to a maximum of
five still photos per half 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 and
news media are obliged to accept them before gaining accreditation to the
events, to be held in France in September. News media face expulsion and
legal action if the rules are broken.

The IRB says it needs the restrictions on photos to protect its commercial
contracts with licensees who pay for the rights to show the events live.
The international soccer body FIFA had imposed similar restrictions on
coverage of its 2006 World Cup, but dropped all of them after negotiations
with WAN. FIFA President Sepp Blatter acknowledged that "almost all print
media of relevance have their own web edition" and that "publication of
images and text must be treated with the same approach for the sake of
maintaining a transparent information management policy that respects the
freedom of the press."

In its letter to Mr Miller, WAN said that IRB attempts to place restrictions
on journalistic coverage of the World Cup -- a public event engaging nations
-- is a clear violation of the right to the free flow of, and access to,
information.

"Restrictions imposed by the IRB on the manner in which photographs can be
used, whether in print or electronically, as a condition of accreditation,
constitute an unacceptable interference in the freedom and independence of
the press," it said.

The Paris-based WAN also said that photography is an integral part of
journalism and should not be subject to special rules, and that digital
publishing plays a fundamental part in the news business and cannot be
disassociated from the other activities of news companies.

"Newspapers and news agencies have played an historic role in the promotion
of rugby and are present 365 days a year to cover its more obscure
features," WAN said. "Apart from anything else, it is immensely unfair that
IRB should now seek to deprive them from continuing to serve their readers
and clients by covering the World Cup finals in the full fashion that they
would like to."

WAN also protested against an IRB statement which implied it might charge
newspapers for the right to attend and cover its events in the future. "We
are astonished by the barely veiled threat in your letter to start charging
newspapers for just attending major tournaments," the letter said. "This
once again reflects a profound lack of knowledge of what constitutes media
freedom and the free access to information."

A delegation from WAN met with Mr Miller and other IRB officials in December
and subsequently wrote to him to ask that its concerns be considered in the
terms for media accreditation. Mr Miller rejected all of WAN's requests,
saying that "the IRB unashamedly protects its revenues and believes that
these funds should be retained within the Game and not potentially lost or
diminished by what in essence may amount to further forms of third party
commercial exploitation whether under the guise of so-called 'news
reporting' or otherwise."

The full letter from Mr Miller and the response from WAN can be found at
http://www.wan-press.org/article13478.html

The letter from WAN to the Australian Football League can be found at
http://www.wan-press.org/article13479.html