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Home > SPJ News > University Proposes Unreasonably Restrictive Rules for Sports Coverage

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University Proposes Unreasonably Restrictive Rules for Sports Coverage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
7/23/2001


Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or rmarcano@spj.org; Al Cross, SPJ president-elect, 502/875-5136 x14

INDIANAPOLIS - The University of Oregon's proposed rules for sports coverage go too far and would block the media's constitutional right to gather and report news, says the Society of Professional Journalists in concert with other media organizations.

The University of Oregon proposed last week that television broadcasters could air no more than 20 seconds of game highlights for 48 hours after a game, 30 seconds of highlights for a week after the game and no video highlights from then on. The university also wants to limit video interviews of coaches and athletes and choose which journalists are granted interviews by reserving the right to lift university coverage restrictions at the university's sole discretion and without justification.

SPJ joined The Radio-Television News Directors Association and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today in a letter voicing concern about the university's proposed regulations.

"No one should attempt to place restrictions on how the press does its job or try to impose guidelines that impact reporting and, in essence, select which journalists get to report the news," said SPJ President Ray Marcano, an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "These restrictions fly in the face of the First Amendment, and we urge the university to abandon these restrictive procedures."

SPJ has taken other strong stances against limiting coverage of sporting events. In April, the Society issued a statement strongly opposing Major League Baseball's attempt to limit coverage through its credentialing process. SPJ views such attempts to limit coverage as unconstitutional limitations on the media and believes such harsh limitations make complete and meaningful coverage impossible to produce.

"This is something that must be nipped in the bud," said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "It's particularly objectionable for a public institution to attempt to impose these kinds of restrictions."

A complete copy of the letter on behalf of the journalism organizations can be found below:


VIA FACSIMILE AND FIRST CLASS MAIL
David B. Frohnmayer, President
Dan Williams, Vice President for Administration
Melinda W. Grier, General Counsel
Deb Eldredge, Rules Coordinator
University of Oregon
Office of the President
1226 University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403
Re: Proposed University Regulations on Television Broadcasting (OAR 571-050-0011(10))

Gentlemen/Ladies:

As representatives of the nation's journalists and their service to the public, we join together to register our concerns about the regulations the University of Oregon has proposed to regulate sports news broadcasting of Oregon athletics. The Radio-Television News Directors Association ("RTNDA") is the world's largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. Formed in 1946, RTNDA's membership encompasses more than 3000 news directors, news associates, educators, and students in more than 30 countries. From its inception, RTNDA has been committed to preserving First Amendment freedoms and encouraging excellence in electronic journalism. The Society of Professional Journalists ("SPJ") is the nation's largest and broadest based journalism organization and is dedicated to improving and protecting journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a voluntary, unincorporated association of reporters and editors that works to defend the First Amendment rights and freedom of information interests of the news media. The Reporters Committee has provided representation, guidance and research in First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act litigation since 1970.

The University's proposed rules provide that television broadcasters may air no more than 20 seconds of game highlights for 48 hours after a game, 30 seconds of highlights for a week after the game, and no video highlights from then on. The rules would similarly limit video interviews of coaches and athletes. In addition, University officials would be given the power to discriminate among journalists by lifting restrictions at their sole discretion, without justification.

While we respect the University's economic interest in promoting University athletics and preserving the contract rights granted to its media partners, we agree with the local press that your proposed restrictions go too far, and represent an unconstitutional limitation on the ability of the press to gather and report the news. By asking electronic journalists to agree to such restrictions before they are permitted to cover University of Oregon athletics, you are asking them to forfeit control of their newscasts, a result we simply cannot accept.

The University appears to be following the lead of certain entities, such as Major League Baseball, that have attempted to control news coverage through the credentialing process. We as journalists have objected to the efforts of private enterprise to engage in behavior that impedes the media's right to gather and disseminate public information such as that associated with sporting events. As a publicly supported institution, however, the University of Oregon's actions are even more offensive-the University is most certainly a "state actor" under the law and is obligated to preserve the First Amendment protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Any regulation it promulgates that would interfere with such rights, therefore, must be tailored to serve a legitimate governmental purpose. The accomplishment of that purpose cannot outweigh the benefits of less-restricted access.

Your proposed limitations simply cannot pass this test. In attempting to protect certain proprietary interests, your rules would limit access and restrict use of video so much as to render meaningful coverage impossible. The University has neither demonstrated how the use of footage for highlights or interview programs would interfere with the licenses it has granted nor why less restrictive measures would not serve to preserve those rights. Indeed, the proposed rules are so broad as even to interfere with the fair use principles that recognize the need to balance economic interests with First Amendment rights.

The dangers inherent in the regulatory scheme you have proposed are obvious to journalists. By requiring news organizations to agree to significant time and content restrictions as a condition of reporting news from certain sporting events, they would permit the newsmakers to become the exclusive news providers. Such a result is anathema to the role of a free press in our democratic society. We urge you to reconsider the rules, and to give appropriate weight to the public's interest in receiving a free flow of information about athletics at the University of Oregon.

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