Sports authorities must fight for press freedom

Sports authorities need to put an end to ‘dangerous and unenforceable’ attempts to stop journalists freely reporting from their events, according to News International director of group publishing services Dominic Young.

In a debate on sports rights at the Westminster e-Forum this morning, Young said it was essential that access to high-profile events such as the Olympics were “agreed amicably in advance, not imposed” and said sports bodies derived great benefit from co-operating with the press.

“The news media are increasingly concerned by the trend for event organisers to prevent us doing our job,” he told delegates at the meeting in London today.

“Many sports try to use accreditation terms to prevent us using our own material in the way we choose, so they can create and sell exclusive rights. This is out of step and hopelessly impractical.

“The right to report on sporting events on new media platforms – I don’t think they can be sold at all. It’s non-sensical – the right to report is not a licensable right.”

News International is a member of the News Media Coalition, which has recently clashed with groups include the International Rugby Board and the International Cricket Council over rights.

“The media and sports are natural bed-follows, but all too often we clash,” Young said.

“We have a hard time agreeing with some sports about this. The news media are massive contributors to the success of the sports we cover.

“Sponsors put a cash value on the exposure they get in newspapers. If you calculate the value to sponsors of those mentions in News International titles alone, they’re tens of millions of pounds a year.

Reporting freely from sports events was “a democratic necessity”, Young added.

“Our aim is to do nothing more than defend and continue the long-standing freedom of the press,” he said.

“Editorial freedom is still at the heart of what we do and we are duty-bound to defend it.

“The news media’s mission to inform is paramount. It’s completely unnecessary and deeply dangerous to restrict us.”

But Andrew Croker, executive chairman of the Perform Group, which specialises in selling sports rights, said that in an age where newspapers were competing with accredited broadcasters online, the press needed “a commercial agreement” with the sports bodies.

He said accredited media groups who owned the rights to events had traditionally had “very difficult relationships with newspapers”.

“For years they wouldn’t say who the sponsors were, they’d crop photos in strange ways,” he said.

“The broadcasters pay but the [newspaper] journalists get a free sandwich and a parking space. They can now relay those pictures in real time on a website.”

He said it was wrong to claim that newspapers were not using access to sporting events for commercial gain.

“Trying to restrict the mainstream media from reporting seems complete nonsense. But they sell this content to their readers. You have to have a commercial agreement,” Croker said.

“I think newspapers should be allowed to do what they do, but if you want to turn up and be accredited then you have to have guidelines and find a way to work together.

“You can’t hide behind the freedom of the press when it’s a commercial relationship.”

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