News organizations unified on sports access

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BRUSSELS -- Thirty global news organizations have teamed up to oppose sports groups looking to impose rules on how events are covered, contending that the attempts to set rules represent a serious threat to press freedom.

The alliance, which is comprised of news companies, press associations, news agencies and journalist groups, includes the World Association of Newspapers, the Association of International News Agencies, the Society of Editors, the European Publishers Council and the European Newspapers Publishers Assn.

"The media's representatives from around the world supported action to oppose moves by event organizations to determine how and when news from the events could be produced and distributed," the associations said in a statement.

The move comes as major sports organizations have set increasingly strict regulations on coverage of their events. They include demands -- later lifted -- by the organizers of last year's soccer World Cup in Germany that news agencies and newspaper Web sites could only publish pictures from games two hours after the final whistle.

And in the run-up to September's Rugby World Cup in France, organizers have obliged journalists seeking accreditation to limit the timing and volume of reports, images and scores.

The alliance condemned the International Rugby Board for "failing to recognize fully the direct contribution a free press makes to the public interest in their events as well as the indirect value given to event partners such as sponsors."

The grouping said that the European Commission's July 11 white paper on sports gave legal backing to their attempts to uphold the public's right to be fully informed about sports and other major events.

The white paper has been criticized by soccer's FIFA, rugby's IRB and the ruling bodies of handball, ice hockey and volleyball.

In a joint statement, they said that sport was a special activity that deserved special rules, and that the EU "should recognize both the autonomy and specificity of sport as well as the central role and independence of the sports federations (governing bodies) in organizing, regulating and promoting their respective sports."
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