SPRINGFIELD, IL - The Illinois Press Association today responded to last week's action by the Illinois High School Association when the IHSA refused to allow some Illinois newspaper photographers sideline access to cover the state's high school football championship games at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium on Friday and Saturday.
"The IHSA has made several inaccurate statements in its efforts to justify those actions," IPA executive director David Bennett wrote in a memo sent to IPA member newspapers. "Illinois is in the national spotlight on this issue, and I am consulting with my counterparts in other states who are facing this issue."
"As most of you are undoubtedly aware, the IHSA refused admittance to photographers from several Illinois newspapers at the championship games over the holiday weekend," Bennett wrote. "At no time did the IHSA inform the IPA that it would limit access to the football games."
An IHSA representative told journalists over the weekend that the IHSA had informed certain state newspapers that they would not be allowed on the field because they were continuing to sell game photographs online, and that IHSA and IPA had not come to an agreement on what "secondary use" game photos might have outside of being published in print in the newspaper.
"To the contrary, in its last letter to the IPA, IHSA's counsel twice indicated that the IHSA demanded compliance or it would resort to litigation," Bennett wrote. "That representation was consistent with the representation to Judge Kelley [the judge presiding over IPA's earlier lawsuit against IHSA] that the IHSA would consider filing a counterclaim in our pending litigation, in order to enforce its 'secondary use' policy. No mention was made of excluding newspapers from covering games for news purposes."
At the championship game the photographers who were kept from the field were told by IHSA officials that their newspapers had violated the association's policy regarding secondary sales of images from state tournament events, and therefore they were banned from having access to the field.
"The IHSA randomly chose which newspapers to punish," he wrote. "In its correspondence, the IHSA mentioned The Pantagraph in Bloomington; the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake; The State Journal-Register in Springfield; and the Journal Star in Peoria. No mention was ever made of any other newspaper," Bennett said.
At the game, IHSA assistant executive director Anthony Holman told a reporter from The Pantagraph, "Our policy has not changed. What has changed is the more aggressive selling of photos by media organizations online ... we don't have a problem with you giving them away or doing photo galleries online."
"There is no rhyme nor reason to the actions taken by the IHSA. In its correspondence, only four papers were mentioned. For example, no mention was made of the Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, and yet photographers from that newspaper were evidently excluded because the Daily Herald sells photographs from a gallery on its Web site. However, other newspapers with photo galleries - including photos for sale - were not excluded by the IHSA."
"We are well aware that this is a problem across the nation, but to date only the IHSA has taken the extraordinary action of excluding photographers from sporting events," Bennett wrote.
Today the Daily Herald wrote in an Editorial:
Over the weekend, the IHSA refused to allow our photo staff - and those of other newspapers - access to the state football finals in a disagreement over the sale of photo reprints.
It did so at the last minute. Despite reassurances all fall that it never would. In violation of the spirit of talks with the Illinois Press Association that appeared to show movement toward resolving a "rights" dispute over photographic coverage of high school sports.
Without any warning to us.
The reason? The IHSA wants control. Why? Beyond its own self-importance, because the IHSA envisions a Big Ten Network of its own.
Just take a look at its Web site. Not only is the IHSA signing exclusive rights agreements for sporting events that in reality are owned by you - the public - but it has its own online "store." And you can bet the IHSA plans for it to grow.
And when all of that happens, the real losers won't be newspapers. Or even parents and fans and other students who turn to us for coverage.
The real losers will be the student-athletes the IHSA is intended to protect, the student-athletes who suddenly will live in a world of excess too soon.
Bennett is asking IPA members to help the organization gather as much information as possible about what went on at the games where photographers were denied access to the field. "Please ask the appropriate staff memebers at each of your papers to forward any information to [email protected]."