Stalemate over access sees press facing football stadium lock-out


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Journalists and photographers from national newspapers and news and picture agencies are expected to be locked out of football matches today, on the opening day of the Football League season, in the latest and most dramatic development in a lengthy dispute over press accreditation.

The row involves complex details on precisely what, and more importantly when, journalists may report on matches. At the heart of it is live-blogging by reporters and interaction with fans during the games on newspapers' websites.

Talks between the Premier League and the Football League and a media coalition of nine national newspapers and other news agencies broke down on Wednesday. Hull City, who hosted Blackpool FC in the season's opening match yesterday, turned down requests from media organisations to attend the game. Last night The Independent, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph cancelled all coverage of the match.

Previous rules stated that no more than 15 photographs of a match may be posted during live play, and they could only be posted in specific two- minute windows during the game.

Reporters are expected to cover today's games by watching them on television. In retaliation sponsors' names will be dropped from coverage. The football authorities had offered a temporary extension of the current agreement, but the national newspapers' representatives believe the terms are overly restrictive.

Picture agency Getty Images was told by several club officials that they had been instructed to ban access to grounds unless photographers signed the temporary agreement.

The media lockout will not apply to tomorrow's Community Shield showpiece at Wembley between Manchester United and Manchester City as the match is organised by the Football Association, which is run independently of England's football leagues.

The two league bodies rejected claims they were inflexible.

"It has been made clear from the start that we are willing to improve areas of the agreement," the Premier League and Football League said in a joint statement. "Whilst we are keen to conclude negotiations, it became clear just 48 hours before the start of the new football season that a new agreement would not be in place."

They said disruption over the weekend "serves nobody's interests".

"The leagues proposed that the existing agreement, which has been in place for the past six years, be extended on an interim basis," they said.

"Unfortunately, as yet, the NPA [Newspapers Publishers Association] and international agencies have not taken up that offer."

This is not the first example of controversy over media access to football matches. Last season Southampton FC banned all but one picture agency from its football matches.