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International Rugby Board trying to restrict media coverage of upcoming World Cup, warns IPI

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 6 June 2007 IPI press release:

IPI Worried by Attempts to Limit 2007 Rugby World Cup Reporting, Says Issue Clearly Rests on Press Freedom not Commercial Gain

Based on information provided to the International Press Institute (IPI), the International Rugby Board (IRB) is attempting to restrict media coverage of the Rugby World Cup to be held in France later this year.

As a means of controlling access to the Rugby World Cup, the IRB has imposed a number of conditions that must be accepted by media organisations before being accredited to cover the competition.

These restrictions range from limiting the number of photos that can be shown on Websites, including those of newspapers; restrictions on applying headlines or captions to photos if they obscure advertising; as well as limitations on audiovisual content for Websites and mobile phones.

Justifying these restrictions, the IRB has rejected the claim that there are sound principles of press freedom at stake and argues that it has a responsibility to protect its commercial interests.

In correspondence over these issues with concerned media organisations, the IRB has also impliedly stated that it may start to charge newspapers for coverage of future major competitions.

Commenting on the issue, IPI Director, Johann P. Fritz said, "While organisations have a right to protect their commercial interests, the issues at stake here strike at the heart of press freedom and editorial independence."

"I would also point out that the commercial interests worth protecting in rugby are generated by media coverage, which starts at the league, provincial, national and regional levels before reaching the international level. Indeed, there would be little or no commercial interests to protect, if they were not already generated by the media in advance of the international games."

"In addition, modern professional sport is not only a commercial pursuit, but a vital aspect of news reporting. Contractual restrictions on the media clearly interfere with the right of editors to make informed decisions about content and it has severe implications for the free flow of information."

"I am also deeply concerned about the possibility of newspapers being forced to pay for their coverage at future sporting events.

"If this were to happen, it would undermine the newspapers' independence, leaving them open to accusations of bias and creating an impression in the mind of the public that they were merely an extension of the commercial sphere," added Fritz.

"Therefore, I would call on the IRB to consider these issues carefully and to follow the same path taken by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in a similar situation over the 2006 Football World Cup."

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