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Rugby World Cup media boycott lifted

The media boycott of the Rugby World Cup was lifted on Friday, just 90 minutes before the first match kicked-off, after an agreement was reached between the International Rugby Board (IRB) and the media coalition, the management of AFP announced.

The dispute over reporting restrictions, which had led to the three main news agencies — Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press — suspending coverage of the event, had become increasingly tense.

But with the minutes ticking away before the start of first game between hosts France and Argentina due to kick-off at 7am GMT, both sides in the bitter dispute announced they had reached a breakthrough.

The news agencies, the World Association of Newspapers and their allies strongly opposed conditions which would allow just 50 photos to

be transmitted during each match. This was to made up of 20 photos per half and five for each half in any extra time.

At a meeting in Dublin on August 21, the IRB and international media agreed that one photo per second could be transmitted. This would allow 2 400 images per half with a maximum of 6 000 if there was extra time.

On Friday, both sides reached an agreement on the thorny issue of use of pictures on the internet.

”Both sides agree that still photographs used on websites should not be presented in a way which ’emulates video’,” said a joint statement.

”For the rugby World Cup 2007 only, news and sports websites will be allowed to use a maximum number of stills during games of 200

(including extra time).

”The stills will not be used at a frequency of greater than one per 30 seconds. Use at other times will remain unrestricted.”

The two sides also agreed to meet again on September 10 in Paris to discuss ways of improving audio-visual opportunities while talks will also be held after the tournament to hammer out the underlying grievances.

”Both parties will make all reasonable efforts to facilitate coverage of events,” said the statement.

AFP chairperson Pierre Louette said: ”I am satisfied by the advances made by the coalition in the last few hours.

”It’s obvious we must continue in the future to work to find a balance between the job of journalists, the interests of our clients, those of the organisers and those of the sponsors.”

Earlier on Friday, leading sponsors, who have invested millions of dollars ion the six-week tournament, called for an agreement to be hammered out.

A spokesperson for Orange, the cellphone group, said: ”We hope the conflict will be settled as soon as possible and in the best interests of everyone.”

Jean-Luc Grillet, a French spokesperson for Emirates, the Gulf airline which is also a sponsor, said the boycott was ”very irritating” because all of the backers wanted their names mentioned by the media.

The spokesperson for Orange, which paid â,¬2,5-million to be an official partner of the World Cup, said all of the sponsors had talks about how far to get involved in the dispute.

The French sports daily L’Equipe published no fresh World Cup photos in its Friday edition and has been joined by other newspapers in France and other countries. – Sapa-AFP

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