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AIPS Congress in Brussels to continue battle for access to sources in the home of the European Parliament

(AIPS - sportspress.lu /  03/05/2018) - The 81th AIPS Congress, set to be held in Brussels next week (May 7-10), will be the perfect venue for discussing the future of sports journalism, but at the same time, taking a look at the present working conditions of our colleagues in print, radio, TV and digital. As AIPS and AIPS Europe have been denouncing, there are many important issues to be tackled, that will be discussed at Le Plaza Hotel in Brussels, next week.

PETITION EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Over the last few years, sports journalists and photographers have been facing difficulties in trying to do their job. Imposition of expensive (radio) rights, excessive fees for facilities, preferential treatment for club photographers… All these factors threaten indepent and professional journalism. That is why AIPS and AIPS Europe submitted a first petition to the European Parliament’s Petition Committee. Several problems  were highlighted at that time:

* In 2011 all French radios dropped coverage of Manchester United – Olympique Marseille, after Manchester United demanded € 26,000 from each French radio station wishing to cover the game, even though English radio stations were able to report on Olympique Marseille – Manchester United free of charge.

* In 2014, the Pro League (First Division in Belgian football) banned non-rights holders TV (including regional televisions) from working in the mixed zone, effectively stopping them from interviewing players after a match. They are allowed to use reactions from the official match feed only.

* At the Milan-San Remo cycling race (marketed by IMG on behalf of organizer RCS), prices for facilities (such as commentary positions) doubled from one year to the next, under the false claim that “standards had improved”. They had not. Race organizers should not forget that their events are taking place in the public domain (public streets), so how can they claim ownership and impose all sorts of access fees?

* The UCI forces radios (broadcasting news updates only) to pay €250 to have access to the press center during the 2014 Road World Cycling Championships. In 2013, the UCI and and its media rights agency “Infront” even tried to impose an access fee on non-rights holders to enter the mixed zone for post-race interviews.

The European Commission argued that it had no competence in this matter, but the MEP’s did not agree. The petition was accepted and remained open. AIPS EC member Jean-Paul Savart and Belgian Sportspress Association president David Naert argued fellow AIPS members to feed the petition with new cases, but unfortunately none were forthcoming.

In 2017, Jean-Paul Savart and David Naert submitted a new petition, singling out two new infractions:

* EURO 2016: Staged in France from June 10 until July 10 2016 UEFA denied access to the stadiums and the security perimeter for TV non-right holders despite the sensitive situation following the Paris attacks. Non-rights holders were initially also not allowed at MD-1 press conferences in the venue.

* IHF 2017 WORLD HANDBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS: Staged in France from January 11 until 29 2017 Existing French legislation banning radio rights breached by worldwide media rights holder beIN Sports Very expensive rate card facilities force rights holders to cover the event from their home studio and not on-site.

On April 24, 2018 the Petitions Committee discussed the new cases. David Naert metioned other cases during his opening remarks:

* In football, many clubs use their own club photographers who get preferential treatment and access that is denied to professional and independent sports photographers. In some countries, it is possible for club photographers to sell their photos to sports media, or even give them away for free.

* Smaller sports think they are professional by copying their examples. Take Korfbal, a small sport mailnly played in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch Korfball Union initially excluded all professional sports photographers from the Dutch Cup final. It offered free photos to all media made by  their contracted photographers of website Korfbalfoto.nl, a website dedicated tot his sport. Eventually, the professionals were allowed in. Two still bothered to turn up, only to see their view being restricted by the club photographers and cameramen.

* Back to football, and Ajax Amsterdam, again in the Netherlands. The club is increasingly favouring its own private media channel, namely Ajax TV. Last summer, when a new coach was appointed, he was interviewed exclusively by Ajax TV. Regular media had no access, and could not ask any questions. Of course, they were free to use the not exactly neutral content from Ajax TV, most media preferred not to, and waited for several weeks when they finally were able to ask their own questions. Ajax sometimes cancels pre-match press conferences, and again refers media to Ajax TV.

* In Germany, some press conferences at Bayern Munich are called press talks. The club can then decide who it invites to these talks. It is indeed invitation only. And of course, clubs often think they can ban critical journalists from the stadiums on match day.

As in 2014, the European Commission stated it has no competence in this matter. And the European Parliament’s Culture Committee believes all these cases should be resolbed on a national level. AIPS, on the contrary, believes that an EU-wide approach is required as many of the games or tournaments involved are at an international level. Moreover, we face similar problems in many countries across Europe and beyond. And two MEP’s agreed, arguing that the massive amounts of money at play mean it is about economics, making EU involvement very relevant indeed. And we should never forget the social value of sports as well (including the access for journalists and the public to sports events). The Petitions Committee agreed to merge the two petitions, and they remain open for now. In the immediate future, the Economy Commission of the European Parliament will look into possible infringements on the right to inform about sports even.

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