Media Freedom at 2010 World Cup Under Question in South Africa

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FIFA are under fire for their press accreditation rules at the 2010 World Cup, with the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) at loggerheads over numerous restrictions the governing body is putting in place, most of which follow on similar tight controls from previous World Cups, which have been criticised before.

One South African report says “Local journalists have accused world football governing body FIFA of acting as a bunch of ‘bullies’ and ‘dictators’ with a neo-colonialist mentality, following what analysts see as ‘unreasonable’ media restrictions on the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage.”

Of most obvious concern is that FIFA’s rules include a stipulation against bringing FIFA itself it into disrepute, defined as anything that ‘negatively affects the public standing of the Local Organising Committee or FIFA’.

Yet after the last World Cup, the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) worked to ensure this stipulation did not restrict press freedom in practice, and in 2009 — under the threat of legal action from WAN-IFRA – FIFA agreed to insert the following clause to the accreditation regulations: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in these Accreditation Terms and Conditions is intended to be, or shall be interpreted as restricting or undermining the editorial independence or freedom to report and comment of Accredited Parties.”

Play the Game quotes Larry Kilman, director of communications & public affairs at WAN-IFRA, as saying the question mark over press freedom had been resolved: “The issue of press freedom, and concerns that FIFA intends to restrict critical reporting by preventing anything that brings the game into disrepute, have been dealt with by the insertion of a clause that says nothing in the terms is meant to inhibit press freedom.”

It appears that the South African media remains concerned that WAN-IFRA has only received a verbal promise from FIFA that journalists who violate accreditation rules won’t be removed without prior discussion and explanation.  SANEF is asking for written confirmation from FIFA. Some have cited the long struggle for press freedom in South Africa as motivation for an uncompromising stance towards FIFA.

Several other practical restrictions have perhaps been and remain of greater concern: FIFA’s terms also placed restrictions on the use of images by media organisations in order to maximise commercial revenue, which again after pressure from WAN-IFRA, have been loosened for World Cup 2010, as the World Editors Forum explains:

WAN-IFRA, which promotes press freedom and campaigns on behalf of the newspaper industry on international issues, is involved in debates over sports rights. It has presented the concerns of the news media about coverage of the World Cup to FIFA.

“The free and open coverage of sports events is under attack,” Kilman said. Sports companies want to control news publishers’ coverage of their events, he says, limiting editorial and commercial freedom. In return for accreditation for journalists, sports organisations require strict contracts to be signed. Conditions can include preventing a print publication from superimposing a headline over a photo of the event, in case it blocks the names of sponsors, and not allowing articles to be presented in a way that would damage the reputation of the clubs, that is, in a critical way, he says.

Indeed, the newspaper industry faces a variety of restrictions, including the delay of text reports to websites, restrictions on who can attend press conferences, the assumption of copyright over photos, and the blocking of innovations such as audio-visual reporting for websites. Some legitimate news entities have even been banned from covering sports events.

Negotiations about sports restrictions are not public. He points out that sports organisers see sports news as entertainment, and news coverage as for commercial gain, which leads them to support restrictions on such coverage. Sports organisers also define newspapers as print-only, while new technology allows them to bypass the press in distributing information about their events.

WAN-IFRA is lobbying for changes. An industry declaration has called on sports organisations to recognise the right and duty of the free press to report on matters of the public interest without interference. Indeed, the press has an important role here as an independent representative of the public, Kilman argues, and its coverage develops and promotes sport. Similarly, the News Media Coalition, a group of publishers and press associations, aims to end unreasonable restrictions and promote consensus.

Kilman has been involved in the FIFA – World Cup negotiations, and a mechanism has been established for regular discussions on terms and conditions. In the 2006 World Cup, a very public debate was held when FIFA limited the use of still photos on websites. This was eventually dropped. For this year’s World Cup, there are some improvements. There is no limit on photos used on websites. Mobile browsing is allowed, but “push” to mobile is not, and video is allowed from training grounds but not from venues. The ban on headlines across print photos has also been removed.

The South African media remains concerned about several of the remaining restrictions, including on video and use of pictures on mobile platforms, and FIFA has work to do to appease the local media before kick-off, with six areas of contention highlighted:

  • Newspapers will not be able to push pictures on to their mobile platforms (they can, however, push text);
  • There are restrictions on newspapers doing video packages for their websites;
  • That reporters will not be able to report on the names of hotels in which the teams are staying;
  • No newspapers will be able to sell papers within the restricted zone around stadiums, which has a radius of about 800m;
  • Although Fifa commits itself to guaranteeing freedom of expression there is also a clause that says that news organisations may not bring Fifa into disrepute; and
  • Many of the terms and conditions apply to reporters and photographers and their “organisations” (suggesting their colleagues, some of whom will not be covering the World Cup) rather than “employer” (ie, their editors).

Kilman’s conclusion is perhaps the most balanced take on the demands of the press and the need for FIFA to protect what it would see as its commercial property:

Many news organizations wake up to these terms when a major event comes to their country. What used to be a simple request for a press pass has now morphed into a contract with far-reaching implications. It should really be a publisher or managing director looking over and signing this contract. We have no objections to sports organisers trying to increase revenue from their events, and we don’t think that conflicts with maintaining open press coverage — in fact, press coverage helps enhance the sport. We think there is room for both

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