Australian Test season opens with global media locked out

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2007, 8:10 [IST]
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Australia's Test cricket season began Thursday with international fans unable to follow the action after global news agencies were locked out of the ground in Brisbane.

Australia's largest media organisation, News Limited, also boycotted the opening of the Australia-Sri Lanka Test after accreditation negotiations with Cricket Australia (CA) remained unresolved before play commenced.

The world's top three global news agencies -- Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press -- and News Limited have suspended all coverage of the 2007-08 season unless a deal can be agreed.

As the test opened in Brisbane at 10am (0000 GMT), international news agency and News Limited photographers and reporters were locked outside the ground without accreditations.

The dispute centres on unprecedented demands being made by CA, according to the media organisations at the centre of the dispute, including one that they hand over rights to all photos taken at matches.

The blackout of photos, news reports, graphics and video means international cricket fans hoping to follow the Test will not be able to see photos of their favourite team or read about its progress.

"It is most regrettable that we are unable to provide our usual comprehensive coverage of cricket due to CA's refusal to extend reasonable accreditation terms to international agencies," said AFP chairman Pierre Louette.

"It is especially unfortunate that fans around the world, in this case in Sri Lanka, are being deprived of their right to see images of their sport and read reports about such a major international event."

Australia's Communications Minister Helen Coonan said that while she was unaware of the details of the negotiations, it would be wrong for fans to suffer.

"It's not Australian, and it's not cricket," a spokesman for the minister told the Australian newspaper, owned by News Limited, which was still negotiating with CA after the first ball on Thursday.

"We do not want fans to be caught in the middle of this dispute and be denied access to scores and information about their game."

The conditions imposed on photographers and journalists applying for credentials to cover cricket raise grave concerns about press freedom and have left the agencies unable to report on the first Test, the agencies said.

"The accreditation terms imposed by CA make it impossible for news agencies to achieve the impartial and independent coverage that is our core mission," said Louette.

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.

The agencies have refused to give up their rights but have said they hope to cover the series provided an acceptable agreement on accreditation terms can be agreed.

They also declined a compromise offer from CA under which they would pay a license fee to resell photographs, saying such a charge would run counter to the fundamental principles of news coverage.

"Among the principles that we will not cede on is that we will not pay to cover news," AFP's Louette said.

The agencies are part of a News Media Coalition (NMC) made up of more than 30 media organisations set up to oppose sporting bodies from controlling the ways news is presented.

But while more favourable terms were agreed by CA with several Australian media organisations, the governing body has not offered global agencies a similar deal.

Cricket Australia maintains 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 said earlier this week.

The stand-off in the latest in a series involving sporting bodies and media.

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.

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