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World's Press Regret FIFA's Withdrawal From Talks

World's Press, News Agencies, Regret FIFA's Withdrawal From World Cup Talks

The World Association of Newspapers and a coalition of the world's leading news agencies today expressed their 'dismay' and 'deep regret' about the decision of FIFA, the international, soccer federation, to abandon talks about the severe restrictions the organization has placed on press coverage of this summer's World Cup, despite the continuing disagreement between the two sides.

WAN, representing the world's newspapers, and a coalition of news agencies headed by Agence France-Presse and including The Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, DPA - the German news agency - and the European Press Photo Agency (EPA), said they would now explore their legal options, inform World Cup sponsors of "the very clear loss of exposure from which they will suffer owing to FIFA's publishing restrictions" and alert German and European political leaders about what they consider a violation of conventions on the free access to and free flow of information.

The restrictions "constitute both an interference in editorial freedom and independence and a clear breach of the right to freedom of information," WAN Chief Executive Officer Timothy Balding and AFP President and CEO Pierre Louette said in a letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

FIFA has banned publication of World Cup photos through the Internet, including on thousands of newspaper web sites, during matches and has severely limited the number that can be published, regardless of time limits. It has also introduced editorial restrictions on how photographs can be used in print publications.

The restrictions are imposed as a condition of access to the World Cup and news media are obliged to accept them before gaining accreditation to the events, to be held in Germany in June. News media face expulsion and legal action if the rules are broken - and FIFA holds news agencies responsible if their clients break the embargo or publish too many photos.

WAN has been negotiating with FIFA to remove the restrictions since September 2005, and met with Mr. Blatter and the federation's lawyers and other representatives on 9 January, when the two sides agreed to create a joint working party to seek solutions. But a few days after the first meeting of the working group on 13 February, at which FIFA made no more than 'cosmetic' changes to the rules, the football federation sent a 'final version' of the terms and conditions that continue to ignore the fundamental objections of WAN and the news agencies.

"We are greatly dissatisfied by both the substance of FIFA's response to our case and, frankly, by the manner in which your team has presented your proposals and conclusions to us," said the letter to Mr. Blatter.

"We would like to reiterate our firm belief that your restrictions on our journalistic coverage of the 2006 World Cup not only deprive our readers and clients of access to important information on a public event, but constitute both an interference in editorial freedom and independence and a clear breach of the right to freedom of information as protected by numerous international conventions," said the letter. "You have made it clear that FIFA rejects both these ideas and, to express it bluntly, considers that 'business is business.'

"Beyond this, we are truly saddened and shocked that in the name of maximising the commercial exploitation of these events, FIFA should effectively turn its back on the news media which give life, on a daily basis, to football in all its different manifestations all over the world and have done so for decades."

FIFA had originally decreed that web publication of photos was banned for two hours after a match ended. Since the talks began, they have reduced this first to one hour, then to permission that first-half photos can be published as soon as a match ends, with second-half photos allowed 45 minutes later, and, finally, to publication at the final whistle - but never during matches. Only five photos per match half and two per extra time, including penalty 'shoot-outs', can be published on web sites, regardless of time limits, and FIFA has refused to alter this rule.

FIFA says it needs the delay and the limit on photos to protect its commercial contracts with licensees but WAN and the news agencies argue that, apart from anything else, the rules are needless as web coverage does not threaten broadcasters.

A copy of the full letter to Mr. Blatter can be seen at: http://www.wan-press.org/article9337.html

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 73 national newspaper associations, newspapers and newspaper executives in 102 countries, 11 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.

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