Media outlet NZME, publisher of Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, has withdrawn its reporting team from the Rio Olympics after failing to secure an agreement with Sky Television over use of Games footage on its news website.
NZME Managing Editor Shayne Currie today confirmed the New Zealand Herald, also published by NZME, has informed the New Zealand Olympic Committee of its decision which follows similar action taken by Fairfax Media last night. Neither organisation will now send reporters, photographers and videographers to Rio but will still cover the Games.
Currie said "unduly restrictive" conditions imposed by Sky, who have purchased New Zealand broadcasting rights for the Games from the International Olympic Committee, had driven the decision.
"This has been a difficult decision but ultimately we cannot accept what we view as unduly restrictive and unnecessary News Access Rules as proposed by the New Zealand rights holder, Sky Television," Currie said.
"These do not allow for fair-use of copyright material in accordance with the New Zealand Copyright Act and have the potential to impact heavily on our ability to cover the Games in a fair and meaningful way.
"We also believe that they run counter to the Olympic charter. As a result, NZME Publishing - publisher of New Zealand's biggest newspaper, the NZ Herald; one of the two largest New Zealand news websites, nzherald.co.nz; and five regional daily newspapers - will no longer be sending a team of journalists to Rio.
"Through our syndicated agencies and partnerships, plus with our award-winning sports journalists in New Zealand, we will be doing our utmost to provide the best Games coverage possible."
Fairfax confirmed a similar position with executive editor Sinead Boucher saying the conditions Sky had sought to impose around Games footage were "unprecedented".
Boucher said that the rules, as first presented, seemed designed to prevent other media from covering the Games to the level they had in the past. She added that Sky's actions were contrary to the public's interests when so much taxpayer money was directed towards the Olympics and the Games itself is a major news event.
"We are being asked to waive our rights to fair dealing under the Copyright Act," she said.
Rules that were suggested but since have been negotiated away included a requirement that news websites delay any news video highlights by three hours and to not criticise Sky's commentary. Under New Zealand copyright law, media organisations are legally allowed to provide news coverage under "fair dealing" which includes delayed video news footage of events.
Sky offered several options to media organisations in an effort to solve the impasse but Currie said that ultimately NZME was not able to reach agreement with the pay TV network.
Media organisations have been frustrated by Sky trying to not only introduce delays around when footage could be viewed on news websites but also restrictions on how they are presented and the volume of content. Having to present the footage as "news bulletins" which could only be updated as little as twice a day had been another problem area.
The media industry is also believed to be upset with the NZOC's role in the discussions, believing they should not have to negotiate access to the Olympics with a commercial rival in Sky.
"It's pretty disappointing for Kiwis in that the news coverage won't be what it could have been," Sky TV spokeswoman Kirsty Way told Newshub.
"Sky stands by its news access rules that they're the most generous in the whole world and have been acceptable worldwide, but apparently they're not acceptable to our news agencies in New Zealand."
Trevor Mallard, Labour's spokesman for sport and recreation, said the situation reflected the inevitable conflict that would arise as the media converges.
It was enormously upsetting to think probably the best sports journalists in New Zealand would not be in Rio, if NZME and Fairfax stuck with today's decision, Mallard said.
He hoped further discussions were possible. After a briefing from Sky and NZOC, Mallard said he understood the coverage conditions were more generous than the last Olympics, and when compared to other countries such as Australia.
Sending journalists to Rio would be hugely expensive, and he hoped cost cutting did not factor in to the decision.
Currie said it was wrong to suggest New Zealand media were being offered the best deal in the world.
"We know the UK Olympic rules, for example, contain a complete carve-out for fair-dealing provisions."
Cost-cutting had nothing to do with the decision, he said, with the company having to forfeit some travel costs.