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State university enacts rules curtailing news coverage of athletics

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    NMU         OREGON         Newsgathering         Jul 27, 2001    

State university enacts rules curtailing news coverage of athletics

  • Proposed rules would restrict the duration of video clips some television stations could air of the school’s athletic teams, and would permit stations to show highlights for only one week following the game.

Three national journalism organizations have protested a University of Oregon proposal to restrict the length of video highlights television stations can play of the school’s sports teams.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists signed onto a letter to university president David Frohnmayer written by the Radio-Television News Directors Association calling the proposal “anathema to the role of a free press in our democratic society.”

The proposed rules would require broadcasters to air no more than 20 seconds of game highlights for a 48-hour period after a game and no more than 30 seconds of highlights in the week after the game. After a week, no video highlights could be shown of the game. The rules also would affect video interviews of players and coaches.

Additionally, university officials could discriminate among journalists by lifting restrictions at their discretion.

The proposal is aimed at addressing competition among local television stations for the rights to air highlights. KEZI has a contract with ESPN Regional to be the local broadcast outlet for football games, a privilege that includes airing football coach Mike Belotti’s show. KVAL, which lost the rights to air the games recently, broadcasts its own highlights show, which includes clips from all Pac-10 games.

KEZI and University officials argue the program is an entertainment rather than news show, thus violating the station’s exclusive rights gained through its ESPN contract. UO says it does not want to limit legitimate news coverage, but the university believes it has the right to restrict the use of video clips of its teams used for entertainment programs.

The letter, sent July 23, said the proposed restrictions go too far and “represent and unconstitutional limitation on the ability of the press to gather and report the news.” The groups argued the restrictions would ask broadcasters to forfeit control of their newscasts.

Private groups, such as Major League Baseball, have attempted similar regulations on coverage. The media groups pointed out that the university’s position as a publicly supported institution make the proposal “even more offensive.” They argued that the university, as a “state actor,” is bound to adhere to First Amendment protections in the Constitution.

Frohnmayer, a former state attorney general, told the Associated Press that he has not studied the issue closely enough to have an opinion on whether the proposed broadcasting restrictions would be unconstitutional.

“We’re not going to do anything that’s inconsistent in any way with the First Amendment…” he said. “And we’re not going to take any precipitous action.”

The letter also criticized the loss of content control journalists would face under the proposal.

“The dangers inherent in the regulatory scheme you have proposed are obvious to journalists. By requiring news organizations to agree to significant time and content restrictions as a condition of reporting news from certain sporting events, they (the restrictions) would permit the newsmakers to become the exclusive news providers,” the groups wrote.

CM


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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