Ill. group can block media access to school sporting events

Thursday, November 15, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illinois High School Association can charge fees to media outlets that want to produce video webcasts of high school sporting events or block such coverage altogether without violating a 2008 agreement regarding press access, according to a judge.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley ruled Nov. 13 that the IHSA did not violate its agreement with the Illinois Press Association by asserting that it held exclusive broadcast rights to a football playoff game earlier this month. The decision blocked the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake from producing a video webcast. The IHSA also charges $75 for access to some games.

The newspaper joined the press association and another paper, The State Journal-Register in Springfield, in asking the judge to weigh in. They claimed the IHSA was violating the 2008 settlement, which was reached after the IHSA tried to bar news organizations from selling photos and videos taken at high school sporting events. The IHSA agreed to give news photographers full access.

IHSA Director Marty Hickman said yesterday that the judge’s ruling reflected the high school association’s longstanding policy of charging for broadcast rights.

“Broadcast rights fees have existed as a part of the Association’s Policies across all mediums for nearly 30 years and as new broadcast technology has evolved, such as streaming, it has naturally fallen under that umbrella,” Hickman said in a written statement.

He said the settlement “centered around photographs and had no carryover into broadcasting of any kind.”

But Illinois Press Association attorney Don Craven said that in his view, the settlement clearly included access for webcasting and web-based newspaper products.

“In our view, the settlement agreement encompasses far more than traditional newsprint,” he said. “The IHSA claims to own high school sports in Illinois, opposed to the primarily public high schools who fund the entire process.”

Craven said the press association and the newspapers were discussing a possible appeal.

The newspapers and press association asked the judge to enforce the settlement agreement after the IHSA refused broadcast rights to the Nov. 10 football game between Marian Central Catholic High School of Woodstock and Montini Catholic High School in Lombard.

The settlement states, in part: “The IHSA will assert no authority to control or regulate the production, distribution or sale of any newspaper product.”

But the judge, according to Craven, said that webcasts of high school sports were essentially a new idea at the time of the agreement and not covered by it.

“He said that the focus of that litigation was not webcasting,” Craven said.

Bob Heisse, executive editor of The State Journal-Register, said he worried that if the IHSA is allowed to restrict or bar access for webcasts, that the organization might try to similarly control news media coverage in other areas to what are in most cases events held at public venues.

“These organizations, they put out something restrictive and then all the sudden it’s something else, and then something else,” he said.

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