Coverage as usual despite Rugby Cup rights dispute

Coverage as usual despite Rugby Cup rights disputeAustralian publishers refused the terms of accreditation for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand's Cory Jane beats off challenges from Rocky Elsom (left) and Digby Ioane in a match against Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand’s Cory Jane beats off challenges from Rocky Elsom (left) and Digby Ioane in a match against Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Australian newspapers say they are providing comprehensive coverage of the Rugby World Cup despite walking away from official accreditation after a bitter dispute between event organisers and publishers.

Fairfax Media Australia, News Corp Australia and AAP refused accreditation after Rugby World Cup organisers demanded publishers sign away rights protected under fair use provisions enshrined in Australian and New Zealand law.

Journalists are working around lack of access to official zones and events by utilising a range common digital resources including streamed press conferences, the televised broadcast of matches, social media, blogs, as well as their own contacts within the UK and Australian Rugby Union.

“While it’s not an ideal situation, we’re still able to give comprehensive coverage of the Rugby World Cup despite being denied access to the games and the official training sessions and pressers,” said Tim Morrissey, head of sport at News Corp Australia.

Ian Fuge, chief sports editor of Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald said coverage had been pretty much “business as usual”.

“Is it more difficult for the reporters on the ground? Of course it is, Mr Fuge said. “But, as in 2011, we have shown that it is not insurmountable if we do not have accreditation. It is far more important for us to be able to provide our readers with material that has not been overly restricted due to unfair accreditation rules that attempt to override our domestic fair usage laws.”

Tony Gillies, editor in chief of APP, was less optimistic about covering The Cup without accreditation, describing coverage as “adequate” rather than comprehensive.

“We’re not going to miss anything in terms of factual information, but the ambiance or the spirit of the game – that you can only really get by being there, inside the stadium,” Mr Gillies said.

“It is extremely disappointing that the situation hasn’t been able to be rectified given that we went through exact same process for The Cup in 2011.”

Both Fairfax Australia and News Corp have two dedicated reporters on the ground in the UK, while also relying on journalists in Australia to monitor online coverage and developments.

AAP has sent one reporter and one photographer to the UK and will also utilise UK-based writers.

Karl Dekroo, head of sport at Courier Mail, said not having accreditation gave journalists the opportunity to work at their “creative best”.

“Because of the scenario we’re in, it gives us the opportunity to look at the event from a fan’s perspective and also to be innovative in our approach,” Mr Dekroo said.

The main point of contention in the accreditation terms was around video coverage, where organisers demanded publishers geo-blocked any match footage and make it unavailable after 48 hours.

“We haven’t given up those rights and we’re just continuing on as we would,” News Corp’s Mr Morrissey said. “And it’s not just for the Rugby World Cup. It applies to all major sporting events and that’s why we’re not budging on what is legally our right in Australia,”

Mr Fuge said without accreditation, Fairfax was able to monetise video content published on their websites.

“We are publishing daily video wraps of each game with no restrictions outside of fair dealing,” Mr Fuge said.

“We had moved away from the traditional approach to covering tournaments in any case. So, in a sense, actually physically going to a game and writing a match report had become a lot less important to us … Our audience comes to us for analysis of what happened, for opinion, and for exclusive breaking news. We are still able to deliver on all three of those.”

While Australian publishers walked away from accreditation, NZME and Fairfax New Zealand did eventually agree to the terms. This move has been interpreted as a reflection of the popularity of rugby union in New Zealand, rather than an endorsement of World Rugby’s stance.

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