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Reporting of sports news and the emergence of digital media

CHAIR —Thank you for making yourself available today. The committee has received your submission as submission No. 12. Before I ask you to make an opening statement, do you have any amendments or alterations to that submission?

Mr Jeanes —No.

CHAIR —Would you like to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Jeanes —Yes, I would.

CHAIR —Please do so.

Mr Jeanes —Firstly, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak. We are a bit peculiar in that we are an independent publisher located in Western Australia. This presents us with certain difficulties and commercial realities in covering events on the eastern seaboard. As a consequence, we need an independent supply of news and pictures from the eastern states.

I would like to concentrate on the AFL and in particular the syndication of pictures in-house for coverage of AFL matches. This affects WA Newspapers because only one match is played each week in Perth, while about five games are played in Melbourne and it is not commercially feasible for us to cover every match. The picture situation has little effect on News Limited, with newspapers in each Australian capital city, and Fairfax which has coverage in Melbourne and Sydney.

Effectively, in 2007 the AFL did not renew its licensing agreement with respected international and independent picture agency Getty. The AFL appointed the closely aligned Geoff Slattery Publishing, which had no syndicated photographic experience and had to start from scratch. At the same time it banned all international picture agencies from matches, and then last season it also banned Australian news and picture provider Australian Associated Press. That leaves the AFL, or Geoff Slattery Publishing, as the sole syndicated provider of match photos. Our concern is that this is not a healthy situation as it gives the AFL some control over what pictures go to press.

This season we have seen Geoff Slattery Publishing tell online sites that the AFL has instructed them that it is to provide only two pictures of each match, which must be published with match reports. The aim of this is to prevent online sites publishing popular picture galleries of matches. I would say that it would not be the usual intent of an organisation selling pictures to minimise sales. We see here that the AFL is willing to interfere to prevent something it does not approve of. This could also apply to certain individual pictures that the AFL deems not to be in the interests of the game or the AFL. In essence, we believe that all bona fide news and picture agencies should have access to all games.

We also have some concerns about statistics, with only one company being licensed to provide stats. We do not have an objection to one licensed stat company providing official AFL stats, but we believe others should be allowed into the grounds to provide unofficial stats and give competition in the marketplace. Until last season there were two providers, but my understanding is that the AFL told the unofficial provider that it could not guarantee ground access. The unofficial provider was the provider of stats to the Age.

CHAIR —You mentioned the arrangements for provision of photographs between Geoff Slattery Publishing and the AFL. Do you have any specific examples of incidents that may not have been in the interests of the AFL that could have been caught by that arrangement?

Mr Jeanes —No, I do not. The only one I have is the online decision this year where we can only run two pictures online of each match.

CHAIR —Has the way you presented news stories about the AFL been affected by those arrangements? Have you been in a situation where you have been unable to get a photograph to accompany a news story?

Mr Jeanes —No. We have not had anyone say as yet, ‘You can’t have this picture’ or ‘We have this picture but we’re not releasing it.’ That has not happened as yet.

CHAIR —Have you been able to ask for the photographs and get the ones that you want?

Mr Jeanes —What happens is that the pictures are posted on an online portal and we can take pictures that we want. As I mentioned in the submission, the price of pictures to us has gone up by 80 per cent this year. We have a copy and picture sharing agreement with Fairfax and we try to use Fairfax pictures as much as we can.

CHAIR —What has gone up 80 per cent? Is that the pictures from GSP?

Mr Jeanes —Yes.

CHAIR —In your submission you state that GSP have advised you that you are restricted to two images, but in fact you have not had that restriction applied or have you not looked beyond two pictures?

Mr Jeanes —That is for our online site. We can run picture galleries from the game in Perth each week, where we have our own photographers. We are using that. We were using picture galleries of other games, but we are not using those anymore.

CHAIR —Do you have any evidence that you are losing market share or revenue because of the arrangements with the AFL with regard to both statistics and photographs?

Mr Jeanes —No, but I think it is affecting the quality of what is available in that Getty is a renowned international provider of pictures. It provides them worldwide and employs extremely competent photographers. When they were covering the AFL the service was regarded as being very good. What happened is that Geoff Slattery Publishing had to start from scratch and hire photographers, which was only one day a week. They were freelancers. It has been generally said that the quality is not what it used to be.

Senator WORTLEY —Can you expand on your concern about the situation regarding AAP and its relationship with West Australian Newspapers in relation to photographs?

Mr Jeanes —We publish a supplement called The Game, which is a 16-page lift-out. It includes probably 20 pictures in it each Monday. When AAP covered AFL games we would look at pictures of each game and choose the best pictures. That is what we try to do now. At times AAP would have the best picture and we would use an AAP picture. I know it has affected country papers, in particular, that AAP now cannot attend games, and it has certainly affected us in that we no longer have access to that source of pictures.

Senator WORTLEY —I stand to be corrected on this, and will need to check the Hansard, but we have had AFL here today. When I asked them specifically about the issue they said that there was basically no issue regarding the on-selling of pictures from AAP to other media organisations as long as they were—I think the wording was—bona fide media organisations for the sole purpose of news. Would your organisation come into that category?

Mr Jeanes —Yes, it would.

Senator WORTLEY —I will need to check on the Hansard for that.

Mr Jeanes —You might be right. The AFL wrote to the Press Council last year in which they more or less said that AAP could have access to the grounds to take pictures, but my understanding is that when AAP approached the AFL about sending photographers they were not given accreditation.

Senator WORTLEY —You stated in your submission that the AFL uses its accreditation agreement to impose restrictions on the use of West Australian Newspapers’ own material over which it or its staff owns copyright. Can you outline those restrictions and also what effect it has had on your organisation?

Mr Jeanes —Up until recently it affected the sale. We sell pictures to mums and dads and we also keep an eye out for commercial instances. For example, a player might take a screamer of a mark and we might have that picture. Therefore, we would like to offer that to people for sale in a considerable sized form so that they can order this picture from us. The AFL charges us to do that and it has virtually become not financially viable for us to commercialise those pictures. We are now allowed to sell mum and dad pictures, so if a supporter writes in and wants a picture of a particular player in a particular match, and we have it, we are allowed to provide that, but if there is something bigger it is not commercially viable for us to put it into the marketplace.

Senator WORTLEY —Does that not have an impact on what you use in the newspaper itself?

Mr Jeanes —No.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Thank you for your time today. As a result of the changes that the AFL has introduced over the last couple of years are you publishing fewer photographs of AFL games?

Mr Jeanes —The short answer probably is, no, but we are being very particular in picking pictures because of the cost involved.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The short answer is, no, in terms of your print publications. You are obviously publishing less in online media than you would otherwise wish to?

Mr Jeanes —That is correct, and we feel the quality is not what it was a couple of years ago when Getty was the AFL approved photographer.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Are online photo galleries news?

Mr Jeanes —I think they are. It is a bit like asking whether social events are news. People like to read about a match, but they also like to view highlights of a match and still photography captures moments in time that people like to browse and see the story of the match in pictures.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —At what point does a montage collection of still photography start to stretch beyond simply coverage of the news of a match into, in fact, a mini replica broadcast of a match?

Mr Jeanes —That is in the eye of the beholder. We would pick a number of pictures that we thought were highlights of a game. In other words, we would not want to put up boring pictures that people had no interest in. We would pick maybe the best 10 or 15 from a game and use those online. We would not use every picture we have. We take more than 100 pictures of a Perth game. It could probably be 200. But we would not put them online, because we would bore people by putting them all there.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Do you use video clips online for AFL or other sports?

Mr Jeanes —No. When I say, no, we do have agreements with Reuters, which supplies us with some video clips, and it is possible that we might take our own video clips, but at the moment it would be rare that we would run a video clip of a sporting game.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —In those rare instances where you do you would only do so either with footage you have taken or that you have purchased from your agreement with Reuters?

Mr Jeanes —Yes.

CHAIR —We have talked a lot about your relationship with the AFL, but are there any other major sports organisations that you have issues with or you would like to bring to the attention of the committee?

Mr Jeanes —Because of our geographical situation, any restriction on what is available affects us. It is important for us to have impartial and bona fide news agencies with a variety of coverage that we can pick from. We do have a reporter based in Melbourne who covers sport. We also employ freelance photographers for Fremantle and West Coast games in Melbourne, but because of our geographical situation in that we are sold as a metropolitan daily our needs are different from those of others and we need a supply of pictures and stories.

CHAIR —Indeed. Do you supply content to other regional newspapers in Western Australia?

Mr Jeanes —Yes.

CHAIR —Is that a significant portion of your business?

Mr Jeanes —No. We do own a significant number of community and regional papers. Most of them are either weekly or tri-weekly. The Kalgoorlie Miner is a daily newspaper and we supply that with pictures and news. The others we do as well, but most of them cover local sport rather than the AFL or Test cricket.

Senator LUNDY —I wanted to follow up something in your submission about the restriction on the number of images allowed to accompany articles. What is that all about?

Mr Jeanes —That is the online situation. This year we are only allowed to publish two Slattery pictures with online articles. If it is a Perth game we can publish as many as we like. We can take as many pictures as we like. We could also use our freelance pictures from Melbourne.

Senator LUNDY —Do you know of anyone else who puts conditions like that on how you publish on your website?

Mr Jeanes —No.

Senator WORTLEY —When you say you are only able to publish two Slattery pictures or photographs, do you actually pay for those?

Mr Jeanes —Yes, we do.

Senator WORTLEY —Do they give you a choice or do they just give you the two photos?

Mr Jeanes —No. There is a website and you can go on there and pick the pictures that you want.

Senator WORTLEY —Can you take four if you want four?

Mr Jeanes —Not for online. It has been stipulated. We were told that the AFL has said that we can only take two pictures, they must run with a match report and that we cannot run galleries. If Getty was the provider of pictures, as they used to be, and their main interest is in selling pictures and making money, then they would be very loath to put any restriction on the sale of pictures. In fact, what we had with Getty is an agreement where we paid a monthly fee and had access to whatever they took. With a bona fide picture provider I, firstly, doubt that they would be taking instructions from the AFL, Cricket Australia or anyone and, secondly, that they would be trying to restrict the sale of pictures.

Senator WORTLEY —If you wanted to, you could use them for your newspaper and you could use as many as you would like that you are prepared to pay for?

Mr Jeanes —Yes, that is right.

Senator WORTLEY —If you have to pay for them for online, as you do for a newspaper, and you can use as many as you want in the newspaper, in your view why is there a restriction on only two for online?

Mr Jeanes —It probably has something to do with the AFL’s arrangements with the provider of online services. They probably have an agreement with someone else that does run picture galleries and therefore they do not want us providing picture galleries as well.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Do you think that is unreasonable that they should have an exclusive online agreement for picture galleries online like they have exclusive agreements for the broadcast of the sport or otherwise?

Mr Jeanes —They might have an agreement with someone. As we said in our submission, we regard these games as public events and news. We do not think that we should be restricted in publishing as many pictures as we think are fitting from a game.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Regardless of the medium in which they are published?

Mr Jeanes —Yes.

Senator WORTLEY —In your view, do changes need to be made to accommodate the new media, specifically online?

Mr Jeanes —I think we regard, as probably News and Fairfax do, our online service as an extension of our newspaper. Therefore, we do not believe there should be any restrictions on what we can put online.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I assume that in running a newspaper you put some level of value on space on a given page. From an advertising perspective that value varies from space on page 3 to space on page 18. Nonetheless, there is value on space on those pages. How do you value space on your website when it is easy to create another online gallery if you have a free and ready supply of photos?

Mr Jeanes —We value it in the same way as we value news space; it needs to be supported by advertising. The more advertising you have the bigger a newspaper will be, and the same applies not to the same extent but to a certain extent with online web pages.

CHAIR —Thank you for your submission and for taking the time to appear before the committee today. Please pass on our apologies to Mr Bob Cronin for the delay.

Mr Jeanes —I will. Thank you.

[2.28 pm]