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SPJ criticizes olympic ban on live coverage of news conferences

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The Society of Professional Journalists today criticized a ban on live coverage of news conferences at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, saying news coverage should not be for sale to the highest bidder.

"Limiting live coverage of news conferences to the network holding broadcast rights to the event is clearly going too far in seeking to protect the interests of the high bidder," SPJ President G. Kelly Hawes said in a letter to the International Olympic Committee's Richard Pound. "News does not happen on a tape-delayed basis, and news conferences should be no exception to the rule."

In a June 29 article, Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post reported that NBC Sports, which holds exclusive broadcast rights to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, had included the ban in a set of guidelines sent recently to fellow broadcasting companies. The article reported that Pound, head of the IOC's Radio and Television Commission, had contended the ban was nothing new.

"It's been around for a while," he said. "In situations where we've guaranteed exclusive rights, we've tried to add a little advantage by giving the rightsholding broadcaster a little edge...For $456 million, it seems to me that a 30-minute edge is not that unreasonable at all."

Hawes disagreed.

"Access to participants in the competition should in no way be limited by the size of the check a reporter's boss is willing to write..." he wrote. "We urge the International Olympic Committee to rethink this policy and to limit the granting of exclusive rights to broadcast of the competition itself. To do otherwise would be an injustice to the athletes and to their supporters."

The 13,500-member Society of Professional Journalists is the largest and most broad-based organization of journalists in the United States.

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