New Rules Could Interfere With School Sports Coverage

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As if they were two mighty heavyweights standing toe to toe in the middle of the boxing ring exchanging blows, the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the Arizona Newspaper Association are locked in a ferocious scrap.

The dispute involves restrictions the AIA, the non-profit governing body of high school sports, is attempting to impose on how Arizona newspapers cover prep sporting events, gather the news for those stories and the use of photographs.

Last summer, the AIA sent all state newspapers an agreement editors and publishers were asked to sign in order to receive media credentials that would allow reporters on sidelines and in press boxes at state playoff games.

The agreement dictates that descriptions, accounts and photographs of the sporting events be used "solely for news and editorial coverage of the event" and that none can be used "for any purpose other than news or editorial use."

The agreement also asks for the relinquishment of copyrights and other materials generated at AIA playoff events.

Many editors, including Tom Brossart of The Payson Roundup, interrupted that as meaning, that the newspaper could no longer share sports photographs with coaches, parents and athletes and would be relinquishing ownership of both stories and photos.

Brossart, other editors around the state and ANA officialsargue the stories and photographs created by reporters and photojournalist are the property of the newspaper and the AIA has no say in how those are distributed or used.

The agreement AIA asked editors to sign has met stiff resistance from the ANA and many of its 133 member newspapers.

ANA Executive Director Paula Casey insists the restrictions the AIA is proposing violate the First Amendment.

"Covering high school sporting events and the taking and use of photographs, including the sale of reprints from the photographs, are constitutionally protected activities," she said.

"The AIA's credential agreement attempts to impose over-reaching and unreasonable restrictions on these fundamental rights by attempting to dictate the terms by which such materials can be used."

In a letter AIA sent last week to state high school athletic directors, Media Marketing Director Brian Bolitho argued that the ANA was overreacting.

"AIA's credentialing policy allows unlimited news and editorial coverage and the use of photos by the media agency, and always did," he wrote. "AIA also informed the ANA that it would authorize free distribution of those photographs used for news and editorial coverage."

Arizona Daily Star editor Shannon Conner penned in a Sept. 10 editorial, "Rather than do what is right for student-athletes, the group (AIA) that organizes high school sports in our state wants to make more money by controlling how newspapers cover high school playoff games and events."

She also argues that in exchange for press credentials, the AIA expects the media to waive their First Amendment rights and the association should not dictate how newspapers cover their hometown athletes.

Bolitho wrote in his letter to school athletic directors that the credential policy was enacted to "identify media agencies that are not appropriate to cover these high school activates" and to protect student athletes."

Casey contends that is sheer nonsense because there never has been an incident in which a newspaper reporter or photographer had been involved in any unscrupulous activities involving sporting events they were covering.

"They are arguing it's a safety issue and that's just not true," she said.

Casey and the ANA Board of Directors are asking all member newspapers to not sign or return the credential request and to not accept a credential.

Bolitho says that request is too late because more than 40 newspapers have already signed the form.

The Payson Roundup has not signed or submitted the media credential request.

"We will not do so under the conditions the AIA has imposed," Brossert said.

Casey says that the editors and publishers who have requested credentials did so early this summer without fully understanding the agreements far reaching restrictions.

The ANA board of directors has asked editors and publishers who have 2008-2009 credentials to return them to the AIA.

Casey also requests that reporters continue to cover high school events, without the credential, and act in a business as usual manner.

The real effect of newspapers refusing to sign the credential agreement won't be known until the post-season playoffs begin. The first of the state tournaments kicks off Oct. 24 with the 4A swim meet.

For Payson High School, state playoffs begin Nov. 6.

"If this issue isn't resolved, it will adversely affect the way the Payson Roundup covers state tournaments," Brossart said.

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