Sydney eases ban on non-rights broadcasters

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The Independent Online

Olympic organisers eased restrictions today on television access at the Sydney Games, allowing a limited number of international broadcasters to film within the main Homebush site.

Sydney organising chief Michael Knight announced a compromise plan - approved by the International Olympic Committee - to allay the concerns of non-rights-holding entities including CNN, ESPN, Fox, Associated Press Television News and Reuters Television.

Under previously announced guidelines, all non-rights-holders would have been banned from the entire Sydney Olympic Park area at Homebush, a public precint where most of the stadiums and main venues are located.

The rule would have restricted access to local Australian rights-holders and NBC, which paid $705 million for exclusive US rights to the Sydney Games.

The ban led to official protests by television companies and the threat of possible legal action against Sydney Olympic officials.

Under the new rules, Olympic officials will issue eight permits per day to international non-rights-holders and eight to Australian non-rights-holders.

The permits will be issued on a rotating basis by the Olympic Coordination Authority, a body of the New South Wales government which controls the Homebush site.

The IOC has accredited 140 non-right-holders for Sydney, suggesting the competition will be fierce for the daily permits.

"We are trying to balance crowd management and the legitimate interests of news media, while protecting our rights holders," Knight said. "They have paid a lot of money for the rights and don't deserve to be ambushed."

Homebush is the site for most of the marquee sports, including track and field, swimming, basketball and gymnastics.

Sydney officials have cited crowd control as a main reason for their decision to restrict television access to the area.

As in previous games, all non-Olympic broadcasters are prohibited from filming inside the stadiums and arenas. But in the past, non-rights-holders have not been banned from filming outside the venues.

Those non-rights-holders allowed access to Homebush will be subjected to several conditions. They will be prohibited from doing live broadcasts or conducting interviews with athletes outside the venues.

All non-rights-holders - including those without the daily permits - will have access to the main press centre, which is located in the Homebush precint. Athletes will be encouraged to go to the press centre for interviews, Knight said.

Knight acknowledged the plan will not satisfy everybody.

"We think it's a fair compromise," he said. "It's always a balancing act. When you reach a compromise, you usually don't make everybody happy. But it's almost always the best result."

Kevan Gosper, an Australian IOC vice president, concurred.

"The IOC believes the proposal was a sensible one," he said. "Our preoccupation is to protect the rights holders."

Meanwhile, with less than five months until the opening of the games, the IOC executive board expressed confidence in Sydney organisers and downplayed the series of controversies that have plagued organisers in recent months.

"We are pretty confident the organisation is really excellent," said IOC executive Jacques Rogge, who heads the IOC's oversight panel for Sydney. "Overall, I'm confident that everything that humanly could have been done has been done."

The IOC also dismissed the chances of violent protests during the games, a threat raised by Aboriginal activists following the leak of a goverment report that plays down the harm caused by a policy of taking Aboriginal children from their families.

"We are not expecting violent demonstrations," Gosper said. "There may be some (non-violent) demonstrations. We hope not too many."

Also today, Ninian Stephen, a former High Court justice and governor-general of Australia, was appointed as a member of the IOC ethics commission.

Stephen fills the seat vacated by Gosper, who resigned from the ethics panel last month amid allegations that he accepted excessive hospitality from Salt Lake City bidders.

The ethics panel was created last year to enforce a code of conduct for IOC members following winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

Stephen becomes the fifth non-IOC member on the eight-man commission.

Gosper remains under investigation by the ethics panel for a ski trip his wife and two children made to Utah in 1993 at the invitation of bid chief Tom Welch.

Gosper, who maintains he did nothing wrong, referred his case to the panel in late January.