Leagues' new restrictions on press shown red card


There has been unanimous rejection by the industry of new proposals from the Premier and Football Leagues which would allow journalists to cover matches only if they agreed not to write anything damaging about the leagues, clubs, players or officials.

A copy of the proposals, leaked to Press Gazette, contains a clause stating: "An article must 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."

The document also reveals that the leagues intend to ban reporters from sending photographs, statistics, score updates or performance data to any person for any purpose and from taking pictures or making audio or filmed commentary.

Any breach of the conditions would mean their accreditation would be withdrawn.

The inclusion of such clauses shows how far the leagues are prepared to push through radical changes to the way journalists traditionally operate.

"Journalists should not have to suffer draconian conditions of entry to report on matches," a senior journalist told Press Gazette.

The leagues are attempting to stop any reporting of matches, except in newspapers and online versions of newspapers. They want any revenue from other methods, such as statistics on WAP phones, to accrue to them.

In a meeting with representatives of the leagues on Monday to discuss criteria for licensing football writers – a step demanded by the leagues – members of the Newspaper Publishers Association, Society of Editors, Newspaper Society, NUJ, Periodical Publishers Association and the Football Writers’ Association were adamant they could not accept such draconian terms.

"There was absolutely no doubt that all of the media organisations rejected the proposals for journalistic licensing which had conditions attached," said Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell.

NUJ representative Tim Gopsill said: "We made it clear all along that no journalists would ever agree to a licence that put conditions on access to the press box. And the conditions they wanted were totally outrageous."

Gerry Cox of Teamwork, who raised the issue at last week’s annual meeting of the Football Writers’ Association, found his members reacted with "consternation and horror" to the leagues’ desire to restrict journalists.

He said: "The feeling was that we should totally reject them. We’ll seek to come up with a workable alternative with press officers who are at the cutting edge of this situation."

David Folker of the leagues’ Football DataCo denied the proposals had been completely rejected. "There’s going to be another meeting to review the accreditation policy, led by Paul McCarthy of the Football Writers’ Association. He, rather than the full committee, is going to have a series of discussions with people within the football business to review how reporters operate within the press box.

"In a month’s time there will be another working party meeting at which his group will report."

By Jean Morgan

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