Local papers face lock-out from Olympic rowing venue

Editors on local newspaper close to London 2012 Olympics venues have joined growing calls for the Government to intervene in the row over press passes for local newspapers at the games.

It currently appears that only a handful of the 400 passes made available to UK newspapers journalists have gone to local newspapers, with just one local newspaper journalist in the whole of London accredited (not including the Standard).

Dorney, near Windsor, is the venue for the rowing and canoe sprint events but none of the newspapers covering the patch will be allowed in to cover them.

Martin Trepte is the editorial director at independent publisher Baylis Media, which owns the Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express and the Windsor Express.

He told Press Gazette that his papers had devoted a ‘huge amount of space’to covering developments at Dorney since London won its Olympic bid in 2005.

This included running a front-page story when organisers needed help attracting 500 local volunteers to meet and greet visitors during next year’s games.

Given the level of coverage, Trepte and his colleagues felt it would be a ‘formality that we would get to cover what’s going on in the middle of our news patch”, but Baylis had all three applications for accreditation rejected.

‘We’ve done an awful lot of coverage on the preparation for the games,’he said. “Despite all this, with the biggest sporting event in the world happening on our doorstep we can’t a send along a photographer and a reporter.”

Trepte is now looking to the support of local MPs such as home secretary Theresa May and Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and is calling on the British Olympic Authority, the body responsible for accreditation, to introduce venue-specific passes for the games.

‘We’re not asking for the earth,’he said. ‘We’ve done a lot of coverage in the run-up and all we want is to give readers the full picture. We don’t think that asking for accreditation for those events is too much to ask.”

The papers already have the support of Windsor MP Adam Afriyie, who is set to table a question on the issue in Parliament.

Sally Stevens, the editor-in-chief of Berkshire Media Group, oversees two newspapers covering Dorney: the Royal Borough Observer and the Slough and South Bucks Observer.

Berkshire Media, which also publishes the Reading Chronicle, also had all its press pass applications rejected.

Like Trepte, editor-in-chief- Sally Stevens is frustrated that the group has nothing to show for its extensive coverage of Dorney since 2005, and was also under the impression that her papers would be able to cover the rowing and canoe events.

‘It can only be in the interests of the Olympics to allow that level of grassroots coverage – that’s the whole point of the legacy,” she said.

“Local papers are going to be so vital in communicating between organisers, sponsors, contractors and the local readership. No one is trusted as much as local newspapers; we’re a vital part of the community.’

The Newspaper Society is currently in talks with the BOA about creating a pool of around 12 reporters that will provide copy to around 150 regional and local newspapers that saw their applications rejected.

But Stevens is critical of the system, arguing the copy would be unlikely to appeal to its core audience.

‘This is about the grassroots element – we’ll be writing for the volunteers, the catering staff, as well as the rowers that live in the area. Will they be covering those aspects?’

Meanwhile, Dee Doocey, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Olympics spokesperson, is urging the British Olympic Association to review its decision to exclude the majority of the local press in London from the Olympics.

‘The Games are of course a national spectacle creating worldwide media attention, however they are also a series of local events for London and Londoners,’she said.

She added: ‘The British Olympic Association should review their decision. At the very least they should ensure that newspaper groups that cover the bulk of local newspapers across London receive some media accreditation passes.”

In a letter to BOA chairman Lord Moynihan she asked him to clarify its policies on accrediation.

The BOA has declined to give Press Gazette a breakdown of how the 400 press accreditations were allocated or how they are divided up between national and regional newspapers, saying that it would only discuss allocation with the media organisations that had been accredited.

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