Leagues' licence for writers 'open to abuse'

New proposals this week from the Premier and Football Leagues to licence what they term "professional journalists" before they can be allowed into football ground press boxes have left the media highly suspicious of the implications.

Photographers are already licenced. Now the leagues intend to extend their control to football writers by the start of the next season in August.

Representatives from newspaper and magazine organisations were called to a meeting this week with football officials and asked to co-operate on a new accreditation system which would see journalists having to provide proof of their published work and registering with a new organisation representing both leagues – Football DataCo.

The driving force behind the proposals seems to be the leagues’ desire to exploit revenues by blocking any way of releasing match information other than the traditional print reports and versions of newspapers online.

Those taking part in the meeting, including the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the Newspaper Society, the Periodical Publishers’ Association, the Society of Editors, the NUJ and the Football Writers’ Association, are to question their members on whether they even want to join a working party.

NPA director Steve Oram expressed "very great concern at a potentially dangerous series of proposals".

Both he and Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, fear the system could be open to abuse. "Once you start licensing journalists, are you going to decide who is to report or not? Are you going to threaten to take the licence away if you don’t like what is written?" asked Oram.

Satchwell said: "We’re worried that yet another piece of bureaucracy concerning football may be created. Where papers are already suffering poor relationships with clubs, that might colour editors’ views on this issue."

With reporters filing for websites, mobile phone messaging and WAP use, and broadband on the horizon, David Folker, general manager Football DataCo, told Press Gazette: "We would like to make sure where new markets are developing, football has an opportunity to earn revenues from those new areas."

No fee had been discussed for a licence, he said, adding: "That would be done by the working party. One could say that if you were a professional you could prove your credibility by having a registration fee. As far as football is concerned, it has no view.

"We are looking for suggestions on how to operate the scheme in the best way for journalism, so it doesn’t become burdensome, and help in the development of an accreditation document."

by Jean Morgan

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