NZME, Fairfax NZ boycott Rio over rights dispute

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New Zealand’s news media will be nowhere in sight at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after the country’s two major publishers – NZME and Fairfax Media NZ – both decided to abandon plans to send reporting teams in the wake of a rights dispute.

Both companies, however, will cover the Games from home soil.

The dispute relates to cable NZ TV network Sky, which holds the exclusive Olympics broadcast rights across all platforms for Rio 2016 through to the 2024 Olympics, and the rules governing how media companies can use its video content online.

In order to gain official Olympics accreditation, publishers need to comply with the News Access Rules. These include restrictions on how much, when, and in how many clips Olympics footage can be used online each day.

Both Fairfax and NZME say they could not come to agreement with Sky over these restrictions, particularly because Sky refused to insert a clause that would protect fair use provisions that are enshrined in New Zealand law.

Fair use provisions accommodate the distribution of information, photographs and video for news purposes.

NZME managing editor Shayne Currie said the refusal to honour fair use provisions was the sticking point.

“We feel that the principle is way too important,” Mr Currie said.

“Unfortunately we just couldn’t go (to Rio) without knowing our rights enshrined in NZ law weren’t included in the News Access Rules.

“The other worry for us is that this could be the thin end of the wedge. So if we forfeited our rights to fair use privileges then suddenly this would happen for Rugby World Cups and Cricket World Cups and so forth.”

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Fairfax Media’s group executive editor Sinead Boucher expressed disappointment with the situation.

In a letter to the New Zealand Olympics Committee she said it was “unacceptable that a broadcast rights holder should have been given so much power to control how its competitor media organisations get to report on an event of such national and international significance”.

“Many of the conditions are anti­competitive, forced delays and restrictions on fair use highlights, for example, and others are more sinister in tone,” she said.

“For Sky to originally try to enforce a condition, for example, whereby accreditation can only be granted if our journalists agree not to write anything negative about its commentators says to me that they are not just trying to protect their rights, but are trying to control the media message in a much broader way.”

In a digitally-connected world, media companies can provide a certain level of coverage of international events without accreditation, but it does provide a number of privileges including access to events and key talent.

Australian publishers covered the 2015 Rugby World Cup without accreditation after a similar rights dispute.

A Sky spokesperson was unsympathetic to the publishers’ demands. Prior to the decision not to send reporting teams, the spokesperson it was absolutely unrealistic for the publishers to complain about the restrictions, given Sky is the rights holder.

“They can create news stories with still images but they want to make more revenue by using the video content we have paid for exclusively to get more eyeballs or clicks. We’ve been more than reasonable with the news access rules, the most generous in the world,” the spokesperson said. “Obviously when it’s the big media agencies opposing your view you have a hard time getting your side of the story across.”

In Australia, a spokesperson for the country’s largest publisher, News Corp Australia, said there had not been any major issues in negotiating the rights for the 2016 Olympics.

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