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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 5:58 a.m., Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rugby: News agencies suspend coverage at World Cup

Associated Press Writer

PARIS — A day before the opening of the showcase tournament, the world's three leading news agencies suspended coverage today of the Rugby World Cup in a dispute with the sport's governing body over media restrictions.

The Associated Press said its journalists would not attend any World Cup events until the dispute over media credentials is resolved with the International Rugby Board. Reuters and Agence-France Presse also said they were suspending coverage.

The AP said it hopes for a resolution soon and to be able to return to full coverage of the six-week tournament before play begins Friday with the opening match between host France and Argentina.

The AP said it would not distribute text stories, photos or TV images from pre-competition events Thursday to its thousands of subscribers around the world.

"Most AP staff members assigned to cover the preliminary events this week have been unable to obtain credentials without first accepting terms proposed by the International Rugby Board which a broad coalition of news organizations finds unacceptable," said David Tomlin, the AP's associate general counsel for news.

French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin intervened Thursday, telephoning the IRB's CEO, Mike Miller, to appeal for a rapid resumption of talks to ensure the World Cup "is not ruined," her office said.

The AP, AFP and Reuters are part of a global coalition of news agencies and newspapers that has been negotiating with the IRB over reporting restrictions. The IRB has modified some of the original terms offered to the media for Cup coverage but has refused to change others.

The AP's Tomlin said the two most troubling conditions, "although by no means the only objectionable ones" still remaining, were:

—A requirement that news organizations post no more than 40 images online from matches in progress, despite an agreement in principle with the IRB two weeks ago that would have allowed several hundred.

—A limit of no more than three minutes of news conference or locker room video posted online per match.

AFP chief executive Pierre Louette said the Paris-based agency also would not send text, video or photos from the World Cup on Thursday, other than possible images of photographers not covering the event. He said AFP has no coverage plans for Friday.

Reuters also said it was suspending coverage of pre-tournament events and training sessions, across text, photos and TV.

"Reuters would like to resume coverage of the Rugby World Cup. ... However, freedom of the press and our editorial integrity are at the core of our business, and these must be respected," said Monique Villa, Reuters managing director of media.

Getty Images and the European Pressphoto Agency said they, too, were suspending photo coverage of pre-tournament events and training. Alison Crombie, a senior director of public relations at Getty, said she did not know when the photo agency's coverage might resume.

"We're playing it by ear at this point," she said.

"EPA will reconsider its position should the IRB allow an unrestricted coverage of the event in the future. The integrity of our editorial core business and freedom of the press must, above all, be respected," EPA managing director Joerg Schierenbeck said.

Tomlin said the IRB's conditions reflect a trend among sports leagues and event organizers toward ever tighter restrictions on the use that journalists can make of their own stories, photos, audio and video.

The global coalition was organized to challenge that trend. News organizations believe that the tighter restrictions are part of efforts by some sports organizers to engage in publishing ventures of their own and stifle competition.

The dispute has caused deep confusion for journalists this week. Some were able to obtain credentials without signing any credential terms. Others signed terms but were able also to give written notice that they were not authorized to bind their companies to the IRB's conditions. Others were not able to obtain credentials, because they refused to sign the terms.

"The result has been piecemeal and very incomplete coverage, frustration and wasted time for staff," Tomlin said. "We have decided that it makes no sense to continue sending journalists to events where it grows more doubtful every day that they will gain admittance without accepting terms that are unacceptable and still the subject of ongoing negotiations."

Tournament organizers said Tuesday they have "made every effort" to amend the credential conditions and said they were the victims of a media "misinformation campaign."