Oregon eyes limits on footage while baseball reins coverage of Bond’s home-run trek
From the Fall 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 45.
Sports fans thrive on watching their favorite teams or players hit the game-winning home run or catch a last-minute touchdown. Fans can bask in the glory of seeing it over and over again on ESPN SportsCenter or their local news program.
But restrictions considered by the University of Oregon and Major League Baseball recently threatened to stifle the thrill.
The University of Oregon announced in June that it would limit televised highlights of Ducks’ football but reversed the decision before the season started. And during the end of the Major League Baseball regular season, officials set restrictions on televising Barry Bonds’ home-run trek.
The baseball restrictions limited the airing of San Francisco Giants game highlights as Bonds closed in on the single-season home run record. Baseball officials allowed the league’s media partners ESPN, Fox, TBS and their affiliates to air 60-second taped highlights for Bonds’ record-tying 70th and subsequent home runs. Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s former record on Oct. 4 and hit three more before the close of the season.
The restrictions stated that for the record-breaking home run, other news entities were permitted to air up to 60 seconds of taped highlights, but live cut-ins were not permitted.
But at Oregon, officials changed course before the new policy could limit sports coverage. The university had proposed a plan to limit TV highlights to 20 seconds for 48 hours after a game and 30 seconds for up to a week after a game for every news outlet except ESPN and KEZI, the ABC affiliate in Eugene.
Television stations would then have to purchase rights to clips shown a week after the game. Reporters from those stations risked losing their game credentials if the rules were not followed.
“It seemed to be a wrong-headed way for a public institution to behave,” said Al Cross, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Here is a public event by a public institution, and to have them say how much of it can be broadcasted, flies in the face of the First Amendment.”
Dave Weinkauf, general manager of KVAL in Oregon, agreed.
“Whenever a state-run, publicly funded organization, such as the University of Oregon, says they are going to determine what news is and try and control it in some way there is a problem,” he said.
He noted that it seemed odd that a university would try to minimize media coverage and figured Oregon’s attempt to curtail coverage appeared to be an attempt to maximize profit.
“As a university gets further and further into their athletic programs there is a desire to follow a quasi-professional model,” he said. “They are all looking for money. There is no question this is about money. If the University of Oregon was at the bottom of the PAC-10, we wouldn’t be having these discussions.”
A five-year contract between the university and ESPN gives the school $775,000 from the sports channel for the next two years. Meanwhile, KEZI pays ESPN $270,000 a year for exclusive local rights.
The proposal, in part, stemmed from competitive programming between KEZI and KVAL. KEZI’s contract with ESPN includes the right to air Oregon football coach Mike Belotti’s show. KVAL broadcasts its own highlights show, “Inside the PAC,” which includes clips from all Pac-10 games.
KEZI and university officials say “Inside the PAC” is entertainment and not a news show, and thus violates KEZI’s exclusive rights gained through its ESPN contract. University officials say they don’t want to limit legitimate news coverage but should have the right to restrict the use of video clips of its teams used for entertainment programs.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio-Televison News Directors Association sent a letter to University President Dave Frohnmayer in July, expressing concern that the proposed policy violated press freedoms.
“The issue is about the right of broadcasters to put on their news program what they deem appropriate,” Cross said.
After the university rescinded its proposal, Athletic Director Bill Moos urged television stations to respect the use of Ducks’ footage.
“We are hoping and feeling confident through our conversations with the Oregon Association of Broadcasters that the media will police itself,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “We listened to the concerns broadcasters brought to us and will continue a policy that is in the best interest of all parties involved.” — HP