Global news agencies said Tuesday they may be forced to cancel coverage of the first Australia-Sri Lanka cricket Test after organisers imposed unprecedented restrictions on the media.
They said Cricket Australia's (CA) demand that they surrender all intellectual property rights to their photo coverage of the game raised grave concerns about press freedom, leaving them unable to report on the Test.
The row means the main agencies -- Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press -- cannot cover the Test beginning in Brisbane Thursday, restricting the ability of cricket fans around the world to follow the match.
The agencies are part of a News Media Coalition (NMC) of more than 30 media organisations - including Getty Images, Australia's News Limited, Fairfax Media and Australian Associated Press - set up to oppose CA's stance.
The NMC said in a statement that the coalition "represents the needs of the broad news media, both newspapers and news agencies, in trying to bring topical news to the public and those organisations have serious concerns about the path which Cricket Australia has chosen.
"In particular we believe it is highly provocative to prevent photographers and reporters from attending future matches because they refuse to cede control over their statutory copyright content to Cricket Australia and refuse to allow CA to have control over the way news is presented.
The CA has insisted it holds the intellectual property rights to agency photographs taken at its venues, and that those photos cannot be re-sold without its permission.
In still-continuing negotiations with CA, the agencies have refused to hand over rights to the photos, saying it would set a dangerous precedent. They say they will not be able to cover the Test series unless the issue is resolved.
The agencies have rejected a compromise offer from CA under which they would pay a licensing fee for the sale of photographs, saying that would run counter to the fundamental principles of news coverage.
"AFP will not pay to report news," AFP chairman Pierre Louette said.
"The accreditation terms imposed by CA are making it impossible for news agencies to achieve the impartial and independent coverage that is our mission.
"We are alarmed that, in the name of maximising the commercial exploitation of international sporting events, Cricket Australia is violating fundamental principles such as the freedom of the press and turning its back on the news agencies -- which give life to cricket in all its different manifestations all over the world, and have done so for decades."
In a meeting in Manchester, Britain's Society of Editors chief Bob Satchwell said that the issues raised by the Australian cricket dispute were of "enormous concern to all editors the world over."
"We support the initiatives of the coalition. The CA should pull back from the brink for its own sake.
"Although many organisations such as CA would deny it, our impartial and varied mix of coverage gives enormous value to the public, sports events and to their partners.
"Our relationships with such events needs to take full account of that and allow our journalists to get on with the business of delivering news to the public.'
Cricket Australia said it is acting to protect the media rights that form its core revenue in a changing media landscape.
"Where cricket generates commercial value, we believe that some of it should be available for investment in the future of cricket," CA spokesman Peter Young told AFP.
There have been a series of recent clashes between sporting bodies and media organisations, as sports administrators seek to maximise revenues from news content on platforms such as the Internet and mobile phones.
Media staged a boycott of the Rugby World Cup in France earlier this year after the International Rugby Board placed severe limits on the number of photographs that could be transmitted on the Internet.
The restriction was only lifted 90 minutes before the tournament kicked off.
Young said he hoped world media would still cover the Test and described the latest dispute as "tactical discussions".
"The broader global debate is probably not going to be resolved for several years, as all parties increasingly understand what this means for us in the new media world," he said.