Kass Naidoo

Media blackout, who's to blame?

2007-11-16 14:47

Kass Naidoo

I have been following Cricket Australia (CA) in the news with interest, since the organisation introduced digital media restrictions at the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Gabba last week to a resounding media blackout. Thank goodness for world cricket that common sense has prevailed and global media agencies have agreed to end their boycott of Australian cricket.

CA's approach has found favour in some quarters of Indian cricket, but unsurprisingly, it is causing major debates in cricket circles, with many critics questioning whether CA has the legal right to introduce these new measures (never mind the best interests of the game at heart), whether the demands of media agencies should be dismissed, and what influence this development will have over the future of sports coverage.

In the style of the International Rugby Board's press regulation policies abandoned shortly before France's World Cup, CA attempted to introduce a number of digital media limits, including the number of photos that may be taken at an event, to which category of media the photographs may be sold, and a mandatory delay before which media may be published.

Editorial use

In addition they attempted to introduce a media accreditation fee, reversing the time-honoured effective free right of admission provided to journalists and photographers.

These innovations are said to be the advice of a digital rights expert at sports management group IMG based on the argument that CA owns the right to exploit photographs taken at its games, and is entitled to demand that the agencies pay to use the photos for editorial use.

Predictably the news agencies balked at this, responding that the Test is a news event which they do not pay to cover, with the result that the entire first Test was boycotted by international news agencies Reuters, Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP).

CA spokesperson Peter Young didn't help matters when he said: "(News Ltd) are keen to take as much money out of cricket as possible to put into their shareholders' pockets, and we're keen to keep as much money in cricket as possible to put into the development of the game."

Uncharacteristic incident

His comments came against a backdrop of CA trying to introduce a A$5 000 media accreditation fee (approximately R30 000) for local media, and double that for international media. Bear in mind, this is the same media who carry the news to every fan not able to attend the game, including millions like you and me, connecting to the latest news via the internet.

This prompted an apology and a retraction from CA chief executive James Sutherland, who said he was "disappointed about the uncharacteristic incident and retracts and apologises for the inappropriate comment our spokesperson made", also raising Australian Communications Minister, Helen Coonan's ire: "It's not Australian and it's not cricket."

Sport is a commercial commodity today, and it's unwise to ignore a realistic and legitimate profit motive of organising bodies. This hoo-ha must also be understood in the context of a changing media, where cellular telephones have become feature-rich audio-visual broadcasting units, and an internet connection provides access to every media format imaginable.

Separate issue

Sporting bodies may well have a right to charge an accreditation fee, and they may even have a right to limit the nature of the transmission of the news. But I can't help but think that they might have tried to bite the hand that feeds them. At the very least, engage the unavoidable targets of the policy, and try to achieve a degree of fairness.

But the key issue for me is the principle of a free press, and that is a separate issue from the economics of a cricket Test. Some of the curbs proposed by Cricket Australia have an appearance of an attempt at control over what goes out, which is a big no-no in my books. I'd be surprised if Cricket South Africa went the same route.

  • Kass Naidoo is editor of gsport... for Girls!

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