Editors fear Man United pic deal will restrict access

Using Man Utd photos could preclude newspapers’ own photographers

Manchester United is offering photographs to newspapers of its players on tour in the US this summer, but sports and picture editors are wary that to accept will preclude their own photographers from getting access to the players.

The move by the Premier League team’s photographic department, thought to be a free deal, is being discussed by the new sports media rights committee of the Newspaper Publishers Association as it attempts to formulate single access and copyright terms with a number of sports events organisers this summer.

The committee was negotiating this week with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club over coverage of The Open. In addition, it faces demands from Goodwood Racecourse, the Professional Golfers Association and even the Beaufort Polo Club before journalists are allowed access.

There have been past battles with the FA Premier League, Football League, Football Association, English Rugby and Zurich Premiership and Wimbledon, which could be repeated in 2003.

Jeremy Deedes, the chairman of the committee, has written to all national daily and Sunday editors, alerting them to the danger of ever-increasing demands seeking to control the reporting and photographing of events. He wants them to write about the problem so that sports fans know what is going on and has asked them to brief their staff not to sign up to restrictive terms from the clubs.

“I know that editors aren’t always aware of everything that is going on in the back pages of their papers, so I thought it was as well to alert them because sport is not normally an area one associates with attempts on our freedom.

“But I believe it is now a matter for industry-wide concern,” wrote Deedes. “Demands being made by these sports bodies are getting dangerously close to threatening press freedom, in addition to imposing restrictions which may be anti-competitive.”

Few bodies seem prepared to acknowledge that newspapers reciprocated for access by giving the clubs publicity, he said, adding: “People would not pour lots and lots of money into sponsorship if they didn’t think they were going to get publicity. It would seem sensible instead of every single, individual house trying to negotiate with every individual football team, for the NPA, via the sports rights committee, to recommend some common industry terms with which both the sports organisations and the publishers would feel comfortable.”

Deedes wants a recognition that each side has a role to play. “At the moment I think the balance is unequal,” he said.

“If they are going to start laying down these sorts of terms I can see a row coming on.”

THE RESTRICTIONS

Limited access to sportsmen and women
Limits on interviews
Limits on times when papers can deliver content
Sports data used by newspapers must be from an official source
How photographs may be altered
Free and sometimes unlimited use by sports bodies of press photographs
On the use of photographs outside the newspaper

By Jean Morgan

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