News editors in South Africa have called upon SA Rugby to remove restrictions placed on the news media as the country prepares for a return to play after a six-month hiatus caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a press release published on Thursday (September 25) the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), a not for profit industry body committed to championing freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media, called upon organisers of the long-awaited Super Fan Saturday event at the iconic Loftus Versveld stadium in Pretoria to remove the hurdles to accreditation and allow local and international news media representatives to return to work.
A media advisory distributed by the Rugby SA on Wednesday (September 24) informed news organisations that an agreement between SA Rugby and Gallo Images, a South African photo agency, had been reached which would see Gallo Images making up to thirty images available to the news media for use rights-free.
“To assist media outlets and navigate the strict COVID-19 regulations in place for rugby matches, SA Rugby and Gallo Images have reached an agreement to supply media with rights free images until there is a change in the regulations and more photographers are allowed inside venues” the statement said.
South Africa is currently at its lowest alert level since the pandemic began and the government is encouraging citizens to return to work.
In their press release SANEF propose a solution which would enable up to 6 photographers from major South African and international news organisations to cover the weekend’s matches with all representatives observing physical distancing and PPE protocols at all times
“The South African National Editors’ Forum believes that journalists should strictly adhere to the regulations of wearing masks, sanitising and ensuring physical distancing but with this in place it believes that sports grounds, particularly as big as Loftus Versfeld, should not pose a threat to spreading the Coronavirus.”
SANEF cited compromises reached with other sports authorities around the numbers of journalists permitted to attend post-lockdown sporting events and expressed the hope that the social responsibility shown by these in helping journalists back into work would be replicated by the rugby fraternity.
In a response to SANEF SA Rugby said they were operating under strictures put in place by the Ministry of Health which limited the number of people in-venue at any one time to a maximum of 174 to include rugby playing squads, management, match officials, medical personnel, TV broadcast personnel, security and ground operations staff. The permitted numbers are so low that reserve players will be put to use as ballboys.
“The decision to allow in more media does not lie with SA Rugby, it lies within the ambit of the prevailing regulations, which we all fervently hope to see lifted as soon as possible” the response said adding that SA Rugby had appealed to the ministry of health but was unlikely to receive a response until next week.
“Maybe we will manage to move mountains for the next games” it said.
Restrictions on independent news media coverage of sports events are widespread and have been a major source of concern to news organisations and industry bodies monitoring press freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic. The limits imposed by SA Rugby which exclude not only independent photographers but also print journalists, place them amongst the most restrictive of event organisers at a time when many sports bodies are reviewing protocols put into place to combat the pandemic.