/ 29 January 2010

Media groups voice concern over Fifa restrictions

The SA media's concerns about Fifa restrictions on coverage of the World Cup have gone unheeded by Fifa for two years, Sanef's Raymond Louw says.

The South African media’s concerns about Fifa restrictions on coverage of the World Cup have gone unheeded by the soccer world body for two years, veteran newsman Raymond Louw said on Friday.

Media groups Avusa, the Independent Group and Media 24 are now trying to “engage in a constructive way” with Fifa, through their lawyers, over the terms and conditions for accreditation.

They believe that aspects of the terms and conditions “unjustifiably limit media freedom”, said Dario Milo, of law firm Webber Wentzel.

“The particular provisions that our clients take issue with are those that empower Fifa to unilaterally withdraw the accreditation of any journalist or unilaterally change the conditions, and also provisions which restrict reportage where, in Fifa’s view, this may harm the reputation of the Fifa World Cup,” he said in a statement.

At this stage there was no threat of legal action, said Milo.

The request might just “shake up Fifa” to be “more receptive to what we are suggesting to them”, said Louw, who has been dealing with the matter as part of the South African National Editors’ Forum’s (Sanef) media freedom committee.

The South African Media Interest Group (Samig) — consisting of Sanef members and representatives of print, broadcasting and online media and publishers — asked for a meeting with Fifa over the terms and conditions two years ago, he said.

It outlined its concerns in a document and received the response, nine months later, that Fifa had referred the matter to its lawyers in Switzerland.

Samig again expressed its concerns in December, asking for a meeting to discuss the issue. Fifa agreed to a meeting, but once there reiterated that its lawyers were dealing with the matter.

“It has been a very unsatisfactory process of negotiation with Fifa. Fifa appears to want to engage with you, then [gets] around the engagement,” Louw said.

This appeared to be Fifa’s standard operating procedure.

“We can’t get around the table and address [the terms and conditions] point by point.”

He said Samig warned Fifa some time ago that some of the clauses it wanted the media to agree to could run counter to the South African Constitution.

Samig consulted last week with Webber Wentzel.

It is understood that Avusa, the Independent Group and Media 24 have submitted that, under South African law, “a prior restraint on publication” is unlawful.

In their submission, they contend the terms are “procedurally unfair, unlawful and unconstitutional”.

Louw said in binding media houses in their entirety to the terms and conditions, Fifa made their entire staff subject to the restrictions, not just the individual journalists accredited to cover the event.

Should any of the terms be broken by anyone at the media house, accreditation would be withdrawn.

“In effect, this is a bar to printing anything [which discredits anything to do with the World Cup]”.

Samig had suggested that only accredited journalists be subject to the terms and conditions, he said.

Fifa states in its preamble to the terms and conditions, that nothing in them “is intended to be, or shall be interpreted as restricting or undermining the editorial independence or freedom to report and comment of accredited parties”.

Local organising committee spokesperson Rich Mkhondo on Friday confirmed Fifa had received the latest submission and was looking at it. — Sapa