Media groups object to Southeastern Conference’s credentials policy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NEW YORK — Several news organizations are protesting the Southeastern Conference’s new restrictions on use of sideline video and audio, photos and blogging from college football games.

Three organizations sent a letter on Aug. 19 to the SEC protesting the new rules, and Editor & Publisher reported yesterday that Gannett had directed its newspapers not to sign on to the new credentials policy.

Schools in the SEC include Florida, Alabama, Louisiana State, Georgia and Tennessee, whose football programs are usually ranked among the Top 25 teams in the country. The season starts next week.

The Aug. 19 letter was sent to SEC commissioner Mike Slive by the Associated Press Managing Editors, Associated Press Sports Editors and the American Society of News Editors.

The editors said that though the SEC had revised its initial credentials policy, “we still see significant problems with the most recent version.”

“The letter objects to the restrictive nature of the credentials, and it asks for negotiations so that ASNE members and others have the opportunity to fully inform readers and viewers about their favorite SEC team,” the editors said.

Among the restrictions the news-media groups object to are:

  • An effective ban on using video or audio clips from SEC games on a newspaper's Web site.
  • A prohibition on “real-time” description of in-game events.

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said the conference had received the letter and was reviewing it “and we will address the issues of concern with the news organizations involved.”

David Tomlin, the Associated Press' associate general counsel and one of those involved in drafting the letter, said the SEC's credentials language was especially limiting to Internet coverage and that portions appeared to be “cut and pasted” from restrictions imposed by major professional leagues. Some other credentials restrictions go even further, he said. For example, the Pac-10 Conference is planning to limit any Internet coverage while its games are in progress, Tomlin said. There are similar concerns about Big Ten and Big 12 credentials.

“The SEC and some other big college conferences want to become publishing and broadcasting businesses now,” he said. “It is constructed so the leagues can run their own publicity machines, make money and control their message, control their brand. What that means for the fans is less opportunity to see independent, objective exposure. The leagues will cover themselves.”

Tomlin told Editor & Publisher on Aug. 24 that AP, which provides SEC coverage for many small newspapers, won’t sign on to the new policy. “We are not signing. We don't want to agree to this. We don't want to go into a stadium under these credential terms.”

Nashville Tennessean Editor Mark Silverman told Editor & Publisher, “The credential restrictions would be untenable.” The newspaper covers the SEC’s University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University. Gannett owns The Tennessean and other newspapers in the nine states with SEC schools.

“They fail to recognize that we are not just a newspaper,” Silverman was quoted as saying. “We use a variety of mediums and I believe we are going to be able to make a prior restraint argument.”

John Cherwa, chair of the APSE legal affairs committee, said: “These issues have already played out with various other sports leagues on the professional level.

“In most cases the leagues have worked with APSE and other groups to ensure more balance in the restrictions,” he said. “APSE would welcome the same opportunity with the SEC or other conferences even before the credentials are issued.”

Two other BCS leagues — the Atlantic Coast Conferences and Big East — said they weren't planning any changes in their credentials language.

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