There has been a serious battle, if not a full-scale war, going on between the media and New Zealand Rugby.

Readers of must be wondering why there is currently almost no rugby coverage on the country’s biggest online news site or in the Fairfax-owned newspapers like The Press in Christchurch and the Dominion Post in Wellington.

Stuff and the papers did not cover the naming of the recent All Black team to play in the Investec series between New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina that starts on August 26.

Nor did they report the big news that All Black fullback Jordie Barrett needs an operation on his shoulder and is unlikely to take part in the series.

The “boycotting” is a pressure tactic in a fight that has been long running, but blew into a major conflict when New Zealand rugby sent the media its “terms and conditions of accreditation” for the Investec series to the media a few weeks ago.

Fairfax, in particular, found those terms unacceptable.

They included a clause that allowed NZR to revoke accreditation if they felt a media outlet breached copyright by running video highlight packages of Sky TV’s footage of the test matches including the Bledisloe Cup matches against Australia.

Accreditation allows reporters to attend All Black training sessions, post-match conferences and other media events. Without accreditation, it is almost impossible for rugby reporters to do their job.

Copyright of the footage belongs to Sky TV and NZR, and it is likely that NZR is under significant pressure from Sky to “get heavy” on the other media it sees as competition.

It has been normal practice for years for the news media to run highlights of matches, including all the tries, on their websites immediately after the games are finished.

The media organisations have long argued that this is a legitimate part of sports news coverage. Sky accepts that a small amount of the footage can be shown, but feels that some media outlets overdo it and infringe on the rights it pays a large sum of money for.

Sky is already in the process of taking TVNZ, Fairfax and NZME to the High Court, claiming they have breached copyright by their use of rugby footage.

“Fairfax’s [level of coverage] has indicated the seriousness with which they are taking the issue.”

Joanna Norris

The case follows Sky’s unsuccessful attempt last year to get an interim injunction to limit Stuff’s use of Olympic footage,

Media companies rely on section 42 of the Copyright Act which allows them to use footage under a “fair dealing” provision.

It was the NZR’s decision not to consider section 42 in deciding if a media company had breached copyright that riled the media in this latest flare up.

Essentially, the NZR wanted to be the sole arbitrator, judge and jury if you like, of whether the media had breached copyright.

On Monday, the Media Freedom Committee (Most media organisations are members of the MFC) joined the battle and wrote to NZR. MFC chairperson Joanne Norris told Newsroom that significant progress had been made in the last two days.

“It was really a matter of getting both around the table and discussing the issues with a view to finding a way through this. We are very pleased with the speed to which the NZR has responded to our concerns”

Asked if the “boycott” of rugby news had strengthened the MFC’s hand in negotiations, Norris came up with a diplomatic response.

“Each media organisation has made different decisions in terms of its rugby coverage. Fairfax’s [level of coverage] has indicated the seriousness with which they are taking the issue.”

Norris said NZR had now agreed to make some changes in the accreditation terms and conditions, including removal of the clause that said they would not take into account “fair dealing” when deciding if someone had breached copyright.

The new document had now gone back to media organisations and Norris was hopeful the issue would be solved in the next few days.

However, Newsroom understands the following phrase remains:

“Any presentation of match footage in the form of extended match highlights shall entitle NZR to suspend, withdraw, revoke or cancel Accreditation.”

And this might still be a bridge too far for some media. If the likes of Fairfax refuse to sign, the coverage of the Investec series will be significantly reduced.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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