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BizTrends 2018

FIFA accused of ‘bullying', dictatorial' tactics

Local journalists have accused world football governing body FIFA of acting as a bunch of ‘bullies' and ‘dictators' with a neo-colonialist mentality, following what analysts see as ‘unreasonable' media restrictions on the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage. Meanwhile, the South African media accreditation deadline is being extended.
“Yes, they are a group of bullies and dictators - that is what I call them. These infringements simply amount to censorship and are meant to bring us back to the dirty tricks of the old political dispensation,” one angry journalist told yesterday, Sunday 30 January 2010.

FIFA restrictions, which are at the centre of a major row between the South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) and the Zurich-based organisation, include prohibition on newspapers to do video packages for their websites. Accredited reporters will also be prohibited to report on the private arrangements for teams, or report on the names of hotels in which the teams are staying.

Newspapers will also not publish pictures on to their mobile platforms, but simply push in text.

Sacrificing press freedom on the altar of commercialism

SANEF member Raymond Louw told that FIFA's restrictions are meant to protect its rights, brand name, profit-making and status of the games, and the rights of sponsoring companies, including broadcasters' exclusive rights.

However, he said: “This cannot be done at the expense of journalists and publications and broadcasters, which forfeit their rights [to impart information].”

Another journalist said: “To sacrifice a nation's press freedom in the name of commercial interests is nothing but a dictator's mentality which consists of putting his or her own interests at the expense of the information-hungry majority.”

Both journalists spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation. Since the beginning of the saga, many journalists have been silent, scared that FIFA will deny them accreditation if they were to speak out against these restrictions.

FIFA warned all news organisations against bringing it into disrepute, and this simply means engaging into a conduct that ‘negatively affects the public standing of the Local Organising Committee or FIFA'.

A two-year battle

It has been now two years since SANEF has been engaging FIFA on the matter, but it seems that Sepp Blatter and his band refuse to budge - a clear sign that the restrictions are cast in stone and not negotiable.

Louw said: “We have engaged FIFA over the last two years and are still negotiating with them in the sense we have put further submissions to them and are awaiting their response.”

Asked what SANEF will do if FIFA remains undeterred, Louw said they will continue objecting.

“We are also proposing to members that they append to their applications a letter saying that reporters and photographers regard the assurances they have been given as indicating that they have full freedom to report in the traditional way on games and all associated events related to the games.

“That is the complaint we have made to FIFA and we are still pursuing it.”

Requests for comment ignored

FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer ignored's repeated requests for comment and did not reply to Bizcommunity emails, and several messages left on her answering machine were also ignored by the time of going to press.

Lesley Cowling, senior lecturer at Wits University's School of Journalism, told “It is unsurprising that there are restrictions on individual journalists and on organisations, and although there should be room for some negotiation between the media sector and FIFA.”

However, she said it seems exaggerated to call this saga a freedom of expression and information issue.

“There is only one clause that seems to me to restrict the media in its public interest role and infringe on the norms of public service journalism and that is the one that says reporters must not bring FIFA into disrepute.

“FIFA, as the organisers of a world event with significant economic and social spin-offs for society, should be as open to scrutiny and criticism as governments and big corporations.”

Meanwhile… accreditation deadline extended

The FIFA Media Accreditation Office says that the demand for 2010 FIFA World Cup media accreditation from national and regional South African media and news organisations has been overwhelming and demonstrates the high interest in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

The office says that the high demand resulted in a delay in the distribution of the required control numbers to access the media accreditation form. For this reason the OC, together with FIFA, have decided to extend the deadline for South African media only to submit their accreditation beyond the initial deadline of 31 January. In the coming days, you will be informed of the new deadline. This extension applies only to South African-based media and organisations.

Media that have submitted an accreditation request by 31 January will be informed on the status of their request in due course, so there is no need to contact the OC or FIFA on this matter at this stage.

About Issa Sikiti da Silva

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.