Press forms a scrum to battle rugby 'rights grab'

Just two weeks away from the start of the Rugby World Cup in France, the organisers have been accused of embarking on a “grab” of reporting rights which has left news organisations fuming.

Representatives of the Newspaper Publishers Association and 40 news media groups worldwide met the International Rugby Board in Dublin last Tuesday to persuade them to back down.

If no deal can be found, there have been predictions that editors could resort to blanking out sponsors’ logos in photos of World Cup matches.

News organisations are unhappy about press accreditation rules which include limits on still images being published on websites. The rules also ban newspaper journalists producing any audiovisual reports from venues and bar newspaper websites from running extracts of broadcast footage.

The IRB has also restricted newspapers from sending photos to mobile phones and insists that it has free, life-long, worldwide rights to use journalists’ material itself.

Among those opposing the accreditation rules is Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors.

He said: “Editors are well aware that the organisers of major sporting events need to make money through sponsorship – but what they need to realise is that there is a huge amount of free publicity which media organisations provide that promotes the event and promotes the sport in general.

“In recognition of this sport, organisers should be bending over backwards to keep the media on side rather than trying to impose these conditions.

Things like the Rugby World Cup are major public events that should be reported on – there shouldn’t be restrictions and costs attached to covering them. The reason that they attract sponsorship is because of all the free coverage that the media provides to these events.

“Editors recognise the need to mention sponsors because of the support they give to sports – but they would be perfectly entitled to stop doing so.”

Freelance football writer Kier Radnedge is chairman of the football commission of the International Sports Writers Association and writers for several UK national newspapers.

He said: “The accreditation process for sports events is now so lengthy and complex that journalists themselves have very little idea what they’ve actually signed up to.

“To a large extent, the forms are handled back in the office and there is so much small print that the head of department just signs it. It’s a question of signing on the bottom line so your man can pick up his pass.

“What’s happened in the past few years is sports federations are seeking to grab for themselves as many revenue-generating opportunities as they can, and they have encroached more and more into the areas which should be a matter of public information and freedom of the press.

“Nobody objects to the Rugby World Cup making as much as it can financially out of its big flagship event. But where it crosses over into matters of freedom of expression and the press, that is always going to cause trouble.”

“There are certain measures that newspapers can take as far as graphics and the visibility of sponsors’ names is concerned. That’s what’s happened in football in the past in terms of shirt logos being blocked out and promotional boards being blocked out.”

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