Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Brisbane November 8, 2007

Global news agencies boycott Test coverage

Cricinfo staff

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, speaks to the News Ltd journalists who were locked out © Getty Images
Australia's Test cricket season started with a row between Cricket Australia and various media groups which led to several organisations being locked out of the Gabba after they refused to agree to new terms demanded by the board.

The world's top three global news agencies - Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press - have suspended all coverage of the season unless a deal can be agreed. The stand-off also involves Getty Images, who provide photos to newspapers and websites across the world.

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said he hoped the matter would be resolved amicably. "It's a very complicated issue," Speed admitted. "CA has been firm, based on principles. It's a sensitive issue. Only time will tell [how it's resolved]."

In a separate incident, CA officials were forced to apologise for an "inappropriate comment" that led to News Limited reporters being ordered not to report on the match. A resolution over the media accreditation dispute between CA and News Limited had been agreed in principle shortly before the match was due to start, but senior management ordered its journalists back to their offices after a radio interview given by a CA official.

Peter Young, CA's general manager of corporate affairs, told the ABC that News Limited's proposals would transfer money available for community cricket "into the pockets of [News Limited boss] Rupert Murdoch". James Sutherland, CA's chief executive, apologised and retracted the comment. "I hope we can resolve current discussions as soon as possible," he said, "and get back to the business of staging and reporting cricket."

As the players returned to the field after a morning rain break, the reporters left the footpath outside the ground and at the time News Limited, which publishes papers including the Australian, the Daily Telegraph, the Courier-Mail and Herald Sun, had no plans to cover the match. However, a deal was signed late in the day.

The main problem centres around rights to photographs and the amount of text and data allowed to be sent from the ground.

"It is most regrettable that we are unable to provide our usual comprehensive coverage of cricket due to CA's refusal to extend reasonable accreditation terms to international agencies," Pierre Louette, the AFP chairman, said. "The accreditation terms imposed by CA make it impossible for news agencies to achieve the impartial and independent coverage that is our core mission."

Fairfax, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, and Australian Associated Press, the national news agency, reached agreement with CA in the lead-up to the match. CA has tightened its regulations with the emergence of new media and the organisation believes money made from commercial interests should be shared with the game. "Where cricket generates commercial value, we believe that some of it should be available for investment in the future of cricket," Young said earlier this week.

The global agencies declined a compromise offer from CA under which they would pay a license fee to resell photographs, arguing such a charge would run counter to the fundamental principles of news coverage. "Among the principles that we will not cede on is that we will not pay to cover news," Louette said.

The agencies are part of a coalition of more than 30 media organisations set up to oppose CA's stance and say they will not "allow CA to have control over the way news is presented". The agencies still hope, however, that the latest dispute can be resolved.

"We are ready to continue negotiations with CA and sincerely hope that we will be able to agree on acceptable conditions that will allow us to resume normal coverage of Cricket Australia events," Louette said. A similar stand-off occurred in the lead-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, but the International Rugby Board relaxed its regulations after photographers who turned up to a major promotional shoot for a sponsor pointed their cameras at the ground.