Gannett, AP Refuse to Sign New Sports Credential Policy

By: Joe Strupp Gannett has directed its daily newspapers that cover the Southeastern Conference not to sign on to a controversial new credential policy, while the Associated Press has also declared it will not agree to the new rules that have sparked opposition for limits on Web video and audio use, photo displays, and blogging.

The moves come just two weeks before the first SEC football games, which draw major audience interest and readership.

Gannett, which has about a dozen newspapers that would cover SEC teams in nine states, has told those papers not to agree to the new rules as they are currently being presented.

"We are reviewing the credentials and have several objections," said Barbara Wall, senior associate general counsel for Gannett. "We are hopeful that the SEC will revise them further."

In the meantime, however, Gannett papers in states that include SEC colleges -- Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky -- have been directed not to sign on to the new credentials. Among those are The Tennessean in Nashville and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

"The credential restrictions would be untenable," said Mark Silverman, editor of the Tennessean, which covers the SEC's University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University. "They fail to recognize that we are not just a newspaper. We use a variety of mediums and I believe we are going to be able to make a prior restraint argument."

AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin confirmed that his organization also refused to sign on to the credentials, a move that could affect wire coverage of the upcoming college football season. Many small newspapers rely on AP for coverage of the powerhouse league.

"We are not signing," Tomlin said Monday. "We don't want to agree to this. We don't want to go into a stadium under these credential terms."

The new SEC credential restrictions that have drawn the objections were announced Aug. 14. Those included:

- No use by newspapers of video and audio game highlights on their Web sites.

- Time-limited restrictions on use of post-game and pre-game video and audio.

- Photographs may only be used online as part of regular news coverage, not for other purposes, archives or sale.

- The SEC and its universities must be granted licensing privileges to use newspaper images for its own news coverage and other uses.

- No blogging on newspaper Web sites of game events during games.

Leaders of the Associated Press Sports Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors and the American Society of News Editors fired off an angry letter to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive last week that demanded the restrictions be eased.

"While we appreciate that your organization made modifications addressing concerns raised by members of our associations, we believe that many major issues were left unaddressed," the letter stated, in part. "We strongly urge further review, as many of the revised provisions will still inhibit coverage of SEC events to the detriment of both the news media and the SEC and its members."

That protest has sparked at least some SEC attention, according to John Cherwa, chair of the legal affairs committee of APSE and sports special projects editor for The Orlando Sentinel. He said a conference call between SEC officials and some of the concerned editors occurred this afternoon. He said it is expected to continue on Tuesday.

"We have a conversation planned with some of the SEC media people on Monday, where we hope we can brush away some of the issues," Cherwa said in an e-mail Monday to E&P. "It's very important for us to understand exactly what they are trying to prevent and for them to clearly understand what we object to. We're really glad they are sensitive to our concerns and we both hope to resolve this quickly."


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