Harsh rights grab poses threat to press freedom

No sooner have journalists faced down a row over accreditation rights for the recent Rugby World Cup, than a similar row has broken out in Australia over access to cricket.

Only after the threat of a possible boycott from international sports organisations did the International Rugby Board back down on threats to grab copyright on pictures and severely curb news organisations’ rights to report freely from the event. And then the backdown only came 90 minutes before the first kick-off and following an outspoken public campaign.

Now three journalists from The Australian have been locked out of the Australia vs Sri Lanka test after the company refused to pay a fee or hand over the copyright for pictures of the match to the organising body, Cricket Australia. The big agencies have joined a boycott of the match.

According to Andy Moger, who advises the UK Newspaper Publishers Association on this issue, these recent events are just the tip of the iceberg.

Organisers of just about any event imaginable could soon be charging journalists for the privilege of attending their venues, grabbing the copyright on their work and controlling what they report.

‘Under attack’

In no uncertain terms, Moger told the Society of Editors conference this month: ‘We are under attack.”

Such is the extent of the control that sports organisations want over journalists that one draft FA Premier League media accreditation document included this demand: ‘An article may NOT be presented in such a way that it would damage the integrity or reputation of the Football League, the FA Premier League, clubs, their players or officials.”

Fortunately, that was resisted – as was the demand that news photos at the last football World Cup in 2006 could not be transmitted until one hour after the end of each match.

Moger said that this rule would have meant that pictures of Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt of Marco Materazzi would have been seen live at 7.47pm but would not have appeared online until an hour and a half later.

Although most major rights grabs from event organisers have been resisted so far, the latest bid from Cricket Australia shows that this is an issue that is not going away.

Pop stars have been more successful in curbing journalists’ freedom to report their events, as this extract from a contract with rap group the Beastie Boys illustrates. It states: ‘You hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to the Beastie Boys… the photos including, without limitation, the worldwide copyrights.

‘You shall have the limited right and permission to use one or more of the photos solely in connection with one article about the Beastie Boys.”

So, in other words, you can use your own photos once – and only to promote their event.

Sports organisations also routinely seek to stop journalists super-imposing headlines on photos taken at events – lest they should obscure a sponsor’s logo.

A media accreditation document from the US Masters golf tournament stated: ‘The right to transmit live accounts and descriptions of the tournament is the exclusive property of [the event].”

And Moger points to the correspondance from Cricket Australia, which has prompted the current row. It states: ‘If you wish to sell photos taken within the venue to use for editorial purposes… we believe cricket should be a participant in that transaction. As such, we propose a commercial agreement be established for the sale of photographs whereby a licence fee be payable to [the event] prior to the season for this right to be granted.”

Moger, a former picture editor of The Times, says: ‘We are under attack by event organisers – we are all affected.

‘They want to control our coverage of their events. They use media accreditation to limit editorial and commercial freedom. Few of us realise what is going on.

‘We are all affected – publishers, agencies, news service customers, and the public.”

Resistance

Moger urged all journalists to do their bit to resist the demands of event organisers by refusing to sign accreditation contracts which include this kind of demand.

And he urged news organisations to join the Global News Media Coalition set up to fight the demands of event organisers – which already includes around 40 organisations, including the World Association of Newspapers, the UK Newspaper Publishers Association, News International and the NUJ.

Those interested in finding out more can contact Andy Moger via email: andy@media-mojos.co.uk.

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