News group says the league “should not be in a position of subverting the American tradition of a free press.”
The Radio-Television News Directors Association is urging the owners of National Football League teams to reverse their decision earlier this week to bar television cameras from the sidelines of games.
In a letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the co-chairs of the NFL rule-making committee, RTNDA President Barbara Cochran says the policy discriminates against television journalists and is not in keeping with the tradition of a free press. “As a vital and highly respected American institution,” she wrote, “the National Football League should not be in a position of subverting the American tradition of a free press.”
The text of the letter follows:
On behalf of RTNDA and its 3,200 members, I am writing to urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse the policy apparently adopted earlier this week by the owners of the National Football League teams to bar local television stations from shooting video along the sidelines of NFL games.
RTNDA members include the news directors at local stations in every city with an NFL franchise. These stations cover the activities of their local NFL teams, providing news and information of great interest to the local community.
RTNDA members began contacting our Washington headquarters yesterday as they learned about this discriminatory and unprecedented policy. They are deeply concerned that NFL team owners have taken such action without announcement, consultation or consideration of the broader impact on public interest.
RTNDA’s members are hard-pressed to understand the rationale behind your decision, which effectively prohibits coverage of NFL games by television reporters. Even private entities should not be allowed to engage in behavior that impedes the media’s right to gather and disseminate public information such as information about sporting events. Certainly, severely restricting the rights of the electronic media to gather news in publicly funded stadiums raises significant First Amendment questions.
When electronic journalists are denied the ability to report on a news event with their own microphones, cameras and production crews, it allows newsmakers to determine the content of the news, a result that is inconsistent with our society’s democratic values. This week’s decision gives no weight to the public’s interest in the free flow of information and access to events that define our national culture.
As a vital and highly respected American institution, the National Football League should not be in a position of subverting the American tradition of a free press.
Because your policy distinguishes between still photography and video cameras, it discriminates against television journalists, and interferes with the public’s ability to get information from a wide variety of sources.
By banning local television coverage, this policy harms the local stations’ ability to serve the public and has the potential to damage the bonds between the NFL franchise and the community.
For all of these reasons, we strongly urge you to reconsider your policy, and continue permitting television journalists to use the tools of their trade to independently and accurately bring information to the public about NFL games.