ATHLETES, AUTHORS BRISTLE OVER OLYMPIC GAG ORDERS

By: Wayne Robins

No ‘Dear Diary’ Allowed From Sydney





The International Olympic Committee (IOC) may not have been able to keep Sydney results off the Web before prime time, but they have restricted athletes, possibly dozens of them, from posting Olympics diaries on their hometown newspaper Web sites.



“I was warned by the IOC to stop sending my journal to you. I cannot write about my experience in the [Olympic] Village for some reason,” Canadian swimmer Mark Johnston wrote in an e-mail message to Garth Woolsey, sports columnist for The Toronto Star.



For several weeks, the swimmer had been “posting updates and discussing his goals on the site, at the Star’s invitation,” Woolsey recounted. “Informative, interesting, innocent stuff, certainly not controversial.” But Johnston had been warned, through the Canadian swimming coach, that the IOC could and would take away his accreditation if he continued his postings to the Star.



“The IOC is monitoring your site closely and any link to me is going to raise havoc,” Johnston wrote in Woolsey’s column. “What rights do I have as an athlete?”



The New York Times on the Web hasn’t been doing any athlete diaries, but a spokeswoman expressed concern over the online gag rule. “While this may not directly affect us, we believe that any attempt to restrict athletes from freedom of speech is inappropriate,” Lisa Carparelli, director of communications for New York Times Digital, told E&P.



The IOC, as first reported by The Industry Standard, prohibits athletes’ Web diaries under Rule 59 of the Olympic Code of Conduct. The reason? Fear that athletes would scoop the Olympics’ authorized broadcasters, who paid an estimated $1.3 billion in TV rights.



“Personally, I think the timing [was] odd,” said Chris Malcolm, executive producer of ChicagoSports.com, an online appendage of the Chicago Tribune. “It surprised a lot of people, and I think that was the intention. Can they tell a person like Marion Jones that she can’t write a diary for a place like Nike.com? I think online diaries are being restricted mainly because when people don’t understand something, they usually back away from it or try to restrict it, like [not] credentialing dot-coms for NFL or Major League Baseball games.”



The timing is problematic for ChicagoSports.com, because it had been publishing an online diary written by Olympic wrestler Kevin Bracken. (The site also links to Bracken’s own athletics homepage.)



“The idea for the [diary] feature was to make it a Q-and-A format once we got to Sydney, similar to the e-mails but between me and him,” Malcolm said. “Under the very odd rule, I believe the Q-and-A format is allowed.” Otherwise, he observed, it would have meant banning “all interviews from the Olympics.”



Others look at the IOC ruling with equanimity.


“It seems consistent with the IOC’s desire to try and figure out what to do with the Net,” Monte Lorell, sports editor of USA Today, said in an e-mail message from Sydney. “The rule doesn’t prevent newspapers or Web sites from doing features on athletes.”


Or from getting the results up fast. “Within seconds of the event,” Lorell said, “the result is on our Web site, and within a half-hour a staff-written story appears” with photos.





Wayne Robins (wrobins@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering new media for E&P.



Related stories:



THE OLYMPICS: NEWSPAPER WEB SITES TO BATTLE TV (08/15/00)



THE OLYMPICS: SMALL PAPERS TO RELY ON CELL PHONES (08/15/00)





Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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