PtG Article 29.01.2010

South African media concerned over FIFA press accreditation rules

FIFA have met with the South Africa media pressure group concerned over the implications of the press accreditation rules for this summer’s world cup but are refusing to disclose details of the meeting on January 21.

South African media have a number of concerns over press accreditation and sought meetings with FIFA outside of negotiations conducted by the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).The lobby has been conducted by the SA Media Interest group, which comprises the South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) and industry body Print Media South Africa, and a SANEF delegation reportedly led by former Rand Daily Mail editor Raymond Louw, met with FIFA. SANEF did not respond to PTG calls but in January South African-based media commentator Gill Moodie identified the issues as:

  • Newspapers will not be able to push pictures on to their mobile platforms (they can, however, push text);
  • There are restrictions on newspapers doing video packages for their websites;
  • That reporters will not be able to report on the names of hotels in which the teams are staying;
  • No newspapers will be able to sell papers within the restricted zone around stadiums, which has a radius of about 800m;
  • Although FIFA commits itself to guaranteeing freedom of expression there is also a clause that says that news organisations may not bring FIFA into disrepute; and
  • Many of the terms and conditions apply to reporters and photographers and their "organisations" (suggesting their colleagues, some of whom will not be covering the World Cup) rather than "employer" (ie, their editors).

WAN-IFRA secured a number of changes to FIFA’s press accreditation rules after the last World Cup in Germany in 2006 and a new clause relating to press freedom was inserted in early 2009, well before media accreditation for this summer’s tournament began. The new clause reads: "For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in these Accreditation Terms and Conditions is intended to be, or shall be interpreted as restricting or undermining the editorial independence or freedom to report and comment of Accredited Parties."“The issue of press freedom, and concerns that FIFA intends to restrict critical reporting by preventing anything that brings the game into disrepute, have been dealt with by the insertion of a clause that says nothing in the terms is meant to inhibit press freedom,” says Larry Kilman, director of communications & public affairs at WAN-IFRA.Only the threat of legal action from WAN-IFRA prompted FIFA to amend the press accreditation code before the last World Cup but as a result of those negotiations WAN-IFRA was invited onto the world body’s media committee. "We want written clarification"FIFA also agreed verbally with WAN-IFRA in talks over media accreditation for this summer’s World Cup that they are unlikely to remove any journalists for alleged violations without discussion, but the new deal is reportedly not enough for the South African media.“South African journalists fought long and hard for freedom of the press during apartheid,” wrote Ms Moodie. “Even if FIFA’s intentions are good, we want written clarification that we can report freely and fairly. We already have that right cast in stone in our constitution and we don't give it up for anyone - no matter how big you are.“If some of the concerns seem a tad pernickety, let me deal with one of them … Why would a reporter want to reveal the name of a team's hotel? Well, imagine team members get drunk and into a barney with South African fans in the bar. Imagine a team member has a party of prostitutes in his hotel room? Or, it could be a good news story: a team member is touched by the plight of a poor hotel cleaner, makes friends with her and promises to help put her children through school.“You can't write a hard news story without the hotel's name and comment from the manager as it just won't be believable to readers. If there's no ‘when, WHERE, what, why, how’, it seems made up.”FIFA guarantees editorial independencePTG repeatedly asked FIFA if written confirmation that press accreditation would not be withdrawn had been provided to SANEF but the world body’s South African press arm would not answer these questions.  “FIFA would like to make it clear that it does respect the freedom of the press. Editorial independence in the coverage of the FIFA World Cup is guaranteed,” said a FIFA media spokesman in South Africa, who also pointed PTG to the clause inserted into the accreditation terms and conditions after the talks with WAN-IFRA, which is trying to alert members to what media accreditation rules really mean.Mr Kilman says: “Many news organizations wake up to these terms when a major event comes to their country. What used to be a simple request for a press pass has now morphed into a contract with far-reaching implications. It should really be a publisher or managing director looking over and signing this contract. We have no objections to sports organisers trying to increase revenue from their events, and we don’t think that conflicts with maintaining open press coverage — in fact, press coverage helps enhance the sport. We think there is room for both.”


This article was first published on January 29 2010 and has been edited on February 1 2010.