Sydney. Australian sports bodies and media groups signed a code of conduct on Tuesday aimed at ending years of disputes and boycotts over press coverage of major sporting events.
The code scraps a number of reporting restrictions that sports administrations had imposed, leaving news agencies unable to cover cricket and Australian Rules Football matches.
Australia’s leading sports bodies and media organizations signed the document, which was backed by the government and brokered by the country’s competition watchdog.
The dispute centered on restrictions on the use of sports news and images on the Internet, including attempts to limit the number of updates and the sites eligible to use sports images, as well as availability on mobile platforms. Media that did not agree to the restrictions, which they regarded as an infringement of press freedom, were unable to cover sports such as cricket.
“There have been issues between some sporting and media organizations, and several media agencies have been unable to gain access to major sporting events for the purpose of reporting the news,” Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said.
“The government was concerned that these breakdowns in communication would adversely affect the Australian public’s traditional access to news reporting of sporting events.”
The voluntary code, which all Australian sports bodies will be asked to sign, ensures media are able to report on sports events freely, and sets up a committee to resolve future disputes.
Cricket Australia, the Australian Football League, the Australian Rugby Union, the National Rugby League and Tennis Australia are all core signatories, along with Agence France-Presse, Fairfax Media, News Limited, Australian Associated Press and Getty Images.
The News Media Coalition, a grouping of the press organizations, called the code a “welcome and constructive basis” for working with sports bodies.
“Throughout the deliberations … news organizations have sought to protect the interests of the public in accessing independent and topical journalistic coverage, including photography,” a coalition statement said.
“We trust that the code will enable this fundamental function of the independent news media to continue to operate without the fear of unnecessary or arbitrary restrictions on their operations.”
The dispute, seen as a test case for press freedom in the digital age, has also arisen elsewhere, including in relation to the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket competition.
Cricket Australia welcomed the agreement, which resolves a boycott by international press agencies ahead of this year’s home Ashes series against England.
“Like all codes it seeks to balance the interests of all parties, and we’re keen that it do that,” CA spokesman Peter Young said.
“What we’re really keen on doing is getting on with the business of staging cricket matches and exciting the Australian public about them, and we need media coverage to do that.”