The world's top three global news agencies said Thursday they would boycott the first cricket Test between Australia and Sri Lanka after organisers imposed unprecedented restrictions on coverage.
The agencies, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press, suspended all coverage of the 2007-08 season over Cricket Australia's (CA) demands, including one that they hand over rights to all photos taken at matches.
The blackout of photos, news reports, graphics and video is likely to deal a blow to international cricket fans who will not be able to see photos of their favourite team or read about its progress abroad unless the deadlock is broken.
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, due to start in Brisbane at 10am (0000 GMT) on Thursday, the agencies said.
"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.
"The accreditation terms imposed by CA make it impossible for news agencies to achieve the impartial and independent coverage that is our core mission," he said.
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.
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 CA's stance. The coalition has said it refuses to "allow CA to have control over the way news is presented".
But while more favourable terms were agreed by CA with several media organisations, the governing body has not offered international agencies a similar deal, effectively locking them out of matches and related events.
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.
The agencies said they still hoped the latest dispute could be resolved.
"We are ready to continue negotiations with CA and sincerely hope that we will be able to agree on acceptable conditions that will allow us to resume normal coverage of Cricket Australia events," Louette said.